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Israel Rejects Preconditions for Talks With Syria

Israel's new government is offering to resume peace negotiations with Syria. But it wants to change the ground rules.

Israel's ultra-nationalist Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said his government is ready to open peace talks with Syria. But he said Israel would not agree in advance to Syria's long-time demand to withdraw from the strategic Golan Heights.

"I would be happy to hold negotiations with Syria this evening, but without preconditions and ultimatums," Lieberman told Israel Radio.

Israel captured the Golan from Syria during the Six Day War in 1967 and annexed it in 1981. Syria says any peace talks must be based on the concept of "land for peace," and any peace agreement would require a full Israeli withdrawal from the Golan.

Peace talks collapsed in 2000 when Israel refused to give Syria a foothold on the Sea of Galilee. Indirect peace talks resumed last year under the previous Israeli government led by Ehud Olmert, but he has since been replaced by hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Lieberman said the new government is not prepared for the same concessions as the previous one.

"Each side has a position," Lieberman said. He explained that Syria "may demand the Golan Heights in exchange for peace, while [Israel] would demand peace for peace."

Critics say Lieberman's position could harm Israel's relations with the new U.S. administration, which has vowed to make the Middle East peace process a priority. But Lieberman is known for speaking his mind. He says America's land-for-peace formula has failed and it is time for a new approach.