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Assad confirms Israeli peace offer

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080424/ap_on_re_mi_ea/syria_israel Assad confirms Israeli peace offer By SAM F. GHATTAS, Associated Press Writer 1 hour, 5 minutes
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 24, 2008
      http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080424/ap_on_re_mi_ea/syria_israel

      Assad confirms Israeli peace offer
      By SAM F. GHATTAS, Associated Press Writer
      1 hour, 5 minutes ago

      BEIRUT, Lebanon - Syrian President Bashar Assad said
      Thursday that Israel has expressed willingness to
      withdraw from the Golan Heights, but direct talks
      would not begin before a new U.S. administration takes
      office.

      Israel declined to comment on the reported message,
      which Syria says was passed through Turkish mediators,
      but a spokesman for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said
      the country is "interested in peace with Syria."

      In an interview with Qatar's Al-Watan newspaper, Assad
      said the United States was the only party qualified to
      sponsor direct Syrian-Israeli negotiations.

      But he said those talks would not be possible right
      now because the Bush administration, "does not have
      the vision or will for the peace process. It does not
      have anything."

      "Maybe with the coming administration in the United
      States we can talk about direct negotiations," he told
      Al-Watan. Syrian officials confirmed that Assad gave
      the interview and did not dispute its contents.

      Olmert spokesman Mark Regev said Israel is also
      interested in restarting talks.

      "We know what the Syrians expect from negotiations and
      the Syrians knows what Israel wants from the
      negotiations," Regev said.

      Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in the
      1967 Mideast war. The two countries last held peace
      negotiations in 2000, but talks collapsed over the
      extent of Israel's proposed withdrawal.

      Assad said Syria received news a week ago that Olmert
      had "assured the Turkish prime minister of his
      readiness to return the Golan." He said he would
      discuss mediation with Turkish Prime Minister Recep
      Tayyip Erdogan when he visits Damascus on Saturday.

      It was not clear how much of the strategic plateau
      Olmert said he was willing to return, and Assad did
      not say what conditions Olmert had put on a
      withdrawal.

      Turkey has close relations with both Israel and Syria
      as well as with the United States.

      In recent days, both Assad and Olmert said their
      countries had exchanged messages. Olmert told Israeli
      newspapers the messages clarified what each would
      expect from a future peace deal.

      Details of the reported offer were not clear. Israel
      has demanded Syria agree to a full peace deal and halt
      support for militant groups like Lebanon's Hezbollah
      and the Palestinian Hamas.

      Olmert has never committed himself publicly on a
      return of the Golan, saying only he is willing to
      resume peace talks with Syria if it drops its support
      for Hezbollah and Hamas.

      The Syria-Israel contacts are taking place despite
      tension between the two neighbors over an Israeli air
      raid on a Syrian military facility in September. Some
      foreign reports say the target was a nuclear
      installation being built with North Korean assistance.

      Damascus says the facility was military, but not a
      nuclear one.

      ___

      Associated Press writer Josef Federman in Jerusalem
      contributed to this story.
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