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Turkish Prime Minister in Damascus to Facilitate Israel-Syria Peace Talks

  • Robert Berger

Turkey's leader is in Damascus today, launching a new initiative to bring Israel and Syria back to the negotiating table. Earlier this week, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said Israel had conveyed through Turkey that it is willing to return the Golan Heights to Syria for a peace treaty. Israel has said it wants to revive peace talks with Damascus. Robert Berger reports from VOA's bureau in Jerusalem that some Israeli leaders are doubtful Syria will agree to Israel's conditions.

Before leaving for Damascus, Mr. Erdogan said Turkey is a natural mediator because it enjoys strong ties with both Israel and Syria. He said Turkey can make a "positive contribution" in forging peace between the two nations, as well between the Israelis and Palestinians.

But so far, Israel and Syria have not formally agreed to resume negotiations that broke down eight years ago.

Israeli parliamentarian Ephraim Sneh is in the dovish Labor Party, a member of the coalition government. He says Israel wants to lure Syria away from its alliance with Iran, but he is pessimistic about the prospects.

Sneh, a former general, told Israel Radio on Saturday that Syria's government relies on Iran for its survival and to maintain its influence in Lebanon. Therefore, in his view, Syria will choose Iran over the "temptation," as he put it, of regaining control of the Golan Heights. Israel captured the Golan from Syria during the Six Day War in 1967 and annexed it in 1981.

Sneh also doubts that President Assad will accept Israeli conditions.

Sneh said Syria would have to stop supplying rockets and other weapons to Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon if it wants to enter peace talks with Israel, but he said Iran will not allow that.

While Syria may face stiff opposition from Iran, Israel faces opposition at home. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government could collapse over concessions to Syria. A poll published on Friday found that more than two-thirds of Israelis oppose a full withdrawal from the Golan Heights.

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