Syria says Israel rejects peace

2010-02-11 21:26

Damascus - Syria fired a new round in its war of words with Israel on Thursday, saying the Jewish state did not want Middle East peace and offering as evidence proposed tax breaks for Israelis living in the Golan Heights, captured from Syria.

The parliamentary vote on a bill providing tax breaks to settlers living in the Golan "is a new sign of the true intentions of Israel, which rejects peace", a foreign ministry statement said.

"This is an illegal measure, which is added to a series of Israeli measures violating international law and UN resolutions considering null and void the Israel annexation of the Golan," it added.

The statement said Israeli policy was a "permanent challenge" to those in the world that want a "just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East", and called on the international community to act to put an end to that challenge.

On Wednesday, the Israeli parliament passed the first reading of a bill that would grant tax breaks to Golan residents, the same as other people in peripheral areas receive.

The bill requires two more readings to be adopted.

Israel captured the strategic Golan Heights in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it in 1981.

Syria wants territory back

Syria has always demanded the full return of the territory in any peace deal, right down to the shores of the Sea of Galilee, Israel's main water source.

The last round of Turkish-mediated indirect peace talks between the two neighbours collapsed in 2008.

Israel and Syria have been in a verbal slanging match all month.

The latest spat emerged after Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak warned on February 1 that if there is no peace agreement with Syria, "we might find ourselves in a forceful conflict that could lead to an all-out war".

Syria responded angrily, with its Foreign Minister Walid Muallem telling Israel: "Do not test the power of Syria since you know the war will move into your cities."

Barak later reiterated that "peace with Syria is a strategic objective" and tried to distance himself from the row, while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also sought to ease tensions by stating Israel wants to renew talks with Damascus.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman also infuriated Damascus with a stark warning that any new conflict between the foes would lead to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad being removed from power.

Muallem countered that Israel's major cities would come under attack in any new war.