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Israel Calls for Peace Talks Amid Tensions with Syria

  • Robert Berger

Tensions soared last week when Syria's President accused Israel of avoiding peace, foreign minister threatened that Israeli cities would be attacked in event of war

Israel says it is extending an olive branch to Syria in a bid to end an escalating war of words.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought to ease tensions with Syria by calling for a resumption of peace talks.

Speaking at the weekly Cabinet meeting here in Jerusalem, Mr. Netanyahu said "Israel wants peace agreements with all of its neighbors." He said this has been achieved with Egypt and Jordan, and Israel hopes for similar agreements with both the Palestinians and Syria.

Tensions soared last week when Syrian President Bashar Assad accused Israel of avoiding peace, and his foreign minister threatened that Israeli cities would be attacked in the event of war.

That brought a tough warning from Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

Lieberman said that if there is war, Syria would lose and Mr. Assad and his family would be toppled from power

Peace talks between the two countries collapsed in 2000, and, since then, Syria has warned that Israel's refusal to return the strategic Golan Heights could lead to war. Israel captured the Golan from Syria during the Six Day War in 1967 and annexed it in 1981.

Israeli Cabinet Minister Uzi Landau said the territory is not negotiable.

"The Golan will not be handed over to Syria," Landau said. "The Golan is part of the biblical Land of Israel," he said, "and is vital for Israel's security."

Syria says it will not return to the negotiating table until Israel agrees in advance to withdraw from the Golan Heights. But Prime Minister Netanyahu told the Cabinet that peace talks must resume without preconditions.

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