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Syria Rejects Israeli Invitation for Summit in Jerusalem


Syria has rejected an Israeli invitation for a summit meeting in Jerusalem. There is little hope of reviving Israeli-Syrian peace talks following the war in Lebanon.

Syria turned down an invitation from Israel's Deputy Premier Shimon Peres, who urged President Bashar Assad to visit Jerusalem. In a bid to defuse mounting tensions between the two countries, Peres said Mr. Assad should address the Israeli parliament and declare that he's ready to make peace.

But Syria said the invitation reflects Israel's weak position in the wake of the war in Lebanon. A front page editorial in the ruling Al-Baath party newspaper said Israel has failed to accept what it described as "the victory of the Lebanese resistance." That is a reference to the Islamic guerrilla group Hezbollah, which survived a 34-day Israeli assault in July and August and rained 4,000 rockets on northern Israel.

Israel accuses Syria of supplying weapons to Hezbollah and the war put the two countries on a collision course. Mr. Assad has declared that if the peace process fails, war is an option.

"Now after the victory, so to speak, of Hezbollah, he cannot lag behind. He has to also show his might and to threaten Israel," said Israeli analyst Moshe Maoz.

Mr. Assad wants to retrieve the strategic Golan Heights, captured by Israel during the Six Day War in 1967. But peace talks collapsed in 2000, and since then Syria has made radical alliances, hosting Palestinian militant groups in Damascus and strengthening ties with Iran.

Mr. Assad says he prefers negotiations to war, but he won't visit Jerusalem because Israel has shown no willingness to relinquish the Golan. Maoz says Mr. Assad is trying to pressure Israel to soften its position.

"So this is the game of the Middle East to voice some military threat," he said.

But these threats, along with Syrian backing for Hezbollah, have left Israelis with little enthusiasm for territorial concessions. A poll shows that only 16 percent of Israeli Jews would support trading the Golan Heights for a peace agreement with Syria.

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