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Israel Says Action Needed From Syria for Peace Talks

A senior Israeli official says Syria needs to take concrete actions to reduce tensions with Israel if peace talks are to resume. VOA's Jim Teeple reports from Jerusalem the Israeli comments follow those by U.S. Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, who said Wednesday in Damascus that Syria's president is ready to negotiate with Israel.

Israeli Cabinet member Zeev Boim, a close associate of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, told Israel Radio that if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad really wants peace with Israel he should take some actions, even minor ones, to prove his intentions.

Boim says just because Bashar Assad is offering an olive branch, that does not mean he really wants peace. The Israeli politician says the Syrian leader should act on his intentions.

Boim says Israel would be willing to go so far as to give up the Golan Heights, the territory it captured from Syria in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War as part of an eventual peace settlement with Syria.

Boim's comments followed those made by U.S. Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday in Damascus. After meeting with Mr. Assad, Speaker Pelosi said the Syrian leader was willing to engage in peace negotiations with Israel, and that Israel's prime minister had told her Israel was ready for peace talks with Syria.

A statement from Mr. Olmert's office issued after her comments said peace talks with Syria would only be possible if Syria stopped its support for Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Palestinian militant group Hamas, and scaled back its ties with Iran.

Alon Liel is a former director general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry who recently held unofficial talks with a number of Syrians about the prospect or resuming peace talks between Israel and Syria. He says the current public Israeli position on Syria means that peace talks between the two countries are unlikely at this time.

"In the Middle East nobody is going to launch a peace before he gets a response or goods from the other side," Liel said. "This is what I guess he (Ehud Olmert) told Nancy Pelosi that if Syria will behave we will talk to her. She (Nancy Pelosi) stressed the positive part of the deal, and probably almost hid the negative part."

Speaker Pelosi continued her Middle East trip with a visit to Saudi Arabia where she met with Saudi King Abdullah and then later held meetings with members of Saudi Arabia's Shura Council, the unelected advisory assembly whose members are appointed by Saudi Arabia's monarch.

Saudi officials said the issue of reform in Saudi Arabia would be discussed and also the problems some Saudi citizens face in obtaining U.S. visas.