'No deal' on Golan Heights

2008-05-26 18:28
Jerusalem - Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said on Monday Israel had made no commitment to Syria to pull out of the Golan Heights in indirect talks that began last year under Turkish auspices.

"From February 2007 to May 2008, nothing was said aside from 'you know what I want, and I know what you want - so let's talk'," Olmert told a parliamentary committee, according to a senior official briefing reporters on the closed-door session.

"There is no commitment aside from the statement which I made and there will be nothing else," said Olmert, who has spoken in general terms about "difficult concessions" Israel would have to make in any peace deal with Syria.

Israel and Syria announced last Wednesday they had begun indirect talks in Turkey, their first negotiations in eight years.

Syria has demanded the return of the Golan Heights, a plateau overlooking Damascus on one side and the Sea of Galilee on the other. Israel captured the territory in a 1967 war, annexing it in 1981 in a move not recognised internationally.

'What Syria wants'

Olmert's comments echoed remarks made on Thursday by Syrian Information Minister Muhsin Bilal.

Bilal told al-Jazeera television that Syria "received commitments and messages from the Israeli government and the Israeli prime minister that guarantee, via the Turks, that he knows what the Syrians want".

Bilal said Olmert "knows that the whole of the Golan Heights will be returned to Syria and that Israel will withdraw to the lines of 4 June, 1967", the eve of the conflict in which the territory was captured.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told a news conference in Beirut that Tehran did not have many details about the talks, "but we consider that the Golan belongs to Syria and must be returned to Syria without any conditions".

Israeli-Syrian peace talks, last held in 2000 in the United States, collapsed over control of the shoreline of the Sea of Galilee, Israel's biggest reservoir.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, setting terms for a deal with Syria, said on Thursday that Damascus needed to distance itself from "problematic ties" with Iran.

'Stop supporting terror'

Syria, she said, must also stop "supporting terror - Hezbollah, Hamas", two groups backed by Iran.

Her remarks were followed on Monday by a report by Iran's official news agency IRNA that quoted Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as calling for closer defence ties with Syria.

Political analysts say US hostility to Damascus, and to its Lebanese Hezbollah and Iranian allies, makes a Syrian-Israeli deal unlikely before President George W Bush leaves office in January.

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