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Israeli PM Sets Off Politicial Storm After Reportedly Offering Golan to Syria


There is outrage in Israel after Syria's leader claimed that he received a major territorial concession from the Jewish state. Robert Berger reports from the VOA bureau in Jerusalem.

Reports that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has offered to return the strategic Golan Heights to Syria have set off a political storm in Israel. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told an Arab newspaper that Mr. Olmert sent messages saying that Israel would trade the Golan for full peace with Syria. Israel captured the territory from Syria during the Six Day War in 1967 and annexed it in 1981.

The prime minister's office would not confirm the offer, though Mr. Olmert said last week that he has sent messages to Syria expressing interest in resuming peace talks. He also said that everyone knows the price of peace, a clear reference to returning the Golan to Syrian control.

Zalman Shoval is a former Israeli ambassador to Washington and member of the hawkish opposition Likud party. He says offering the strategic high ground is a catastrophic mistake.

"It's certainly not advancing the chances of peace; actually it's advancing the risk of a future military threat from Syria if indeed we were to give up the Golan," he said.

Shoval says making peace gestures to Syria harms the global war on terror.

"Syria is continuing to support terrorism, terrorism against Israel, terrorism against the United States in Iraq. Syria is continuing to support the Hizbollah which is a major terrorist element," he said.

Mr. Olmert believes that peace talks would lure Syria away from its alliance with Iran and radical Islamic groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. And that would contribute to regional moderation and stability. But Shoval says that is nonsense.

"Syria has absolutely no intention to break its relationship with Iran. Iran is its main supporter, its life insurance I would say. And without Iran, and Hezbollah which is an Iranian creature, Syria cannot go on maintaining its position in Lebanon. And Lebanon is much more important to the Syrians than the Golan," he said.

Ironically, Prime Minister Olmert is spending the weeklong Passover holiday vacationing on the Golan Heights.

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