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Israel Challenges Syria to Do More for Peace - 2004-01-15


Israel says it is still waiting for Syria to show it can make the necessary sacrifices to achieve peace between the two countries. The statement on Wednesday came after Syria said there is no hope of reaching an agreement while the current Israeli government remains in power.

Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called on Syrian President Bashir al-Assad to demonstrate his credibility and declare he is willing to make serious concessions to reach peace with Israel.

His statement to reporters on Wednesday came just hours after scathing remarks from the Syrian prime minister, Mohammed Naji Otari.

Mr. Otari says there is no hope of achieving what he called a "just and comprehensive peace" so long as, in his words, the "Zionist administration" of Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, remains in power.

He was reacting to Israeli President Moshe Katsav who went on Arab television Wednesday to press Mr. Assad to accept his invitation to visit Israel and launch new peace talks.

Earlier, in an interview with Israel Radio, Mr. Katsav said Mr. Assad must show he is serious about his recent overtures to renew negotiations.

"If indeed President Bashir al-Assad is serious in his intention to make real and permanent peace with us, the right way of achieving it is a direct and bilateral negotiation with the Israeli authority," he said. "I invite him to come to Jerusalem to meet the Israeli leadership, to discuss seriously with the Israeli leaders, and if he prefers it, of course, he can choose other channels, diplomatic channels, secret channels for achieving this purpose."

Israel's foreign minister, Silvan Shalom, adopted a tougher stand.

He says that Syria has shown its true position by its refusal to accept Mr. Katsav's offer. "It shows that the Syrians, the Syrian leadership, is not serious about its willingness and readiness to resume negotiations with Israel," he said.

Formal negotiations between the two countries broke down in 2000. Syria wants them to restart at the point they left off, while Israel says any future talks should be held without pre-conditions.

Syria is seeking the return of the Golan Heights, the strategic plateau captured by Israel during the 1967 Middle East War.

But many Israelis believe that they must hold on to this high ground for the sake of the country's security.

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