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    Isareli PM Olmert says no promises made to Syria yet

    Hurriyet English with wires
    26.05.2008 - 16:57 | Son Güncelleme:

    Israeli PM Ehud Olmert on Monday said he has made no promises to Syria about a future peace agreement as Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for closer defense ties with Syria, a few days after Israel urged Damascus to distance itself from Tehran. (UPDATED)

    Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Monday said he has made no promises to Syria about a future peace agreement but made clear he is prepared to make significant concessions, telling skeptical lawmakers that "sometimes the truth is unpleasant," the AP reported. 

    Israel and Syria announced last week that they had resumed peace talks after more than a year of indirect contacts through Turkish mediators.

    The surprise announcement has raised speculation that Olmert is preparing to relinquish the Golan Heights – Syria’s central demand for any peace deal.

    Israel captured the strategic plateau in the 1967 Mideast war and later annexed the area. Many Israelis are reluctant to relinquish the Golan, which overlooks northern Israel and borders the Sea of Galilee, a key source of drinking water.

    Olmert told a closed parliamentary hearing on the contacts with Syria that he has made no promises to Damascus, though it is clear what each side must do. Olmert has repeatedly said Syria must end its support for Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon and Palestinian militants for there to be peace.

    "What I said was I know what you want. You know what I want. Have I sold something? Have I given up anything?" Olmert said. "Let’s sit and talk. There is nothing in writing and no other commitments, except what I have said."

    Olmert was quoted by a meeting participant who spoke on condition of anonymity because the session was closed, the AP reported.

    While Olmert was evasive about what he would offer Syria, he noted that his predecessors have agreed to sweeping territorial concessions in previous peace efforts.

    In the most recent talks, conducted by then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak, Israel reportedly offered to withdraw from the Golan, but the talks broke down because Syria wanted Israel to pull back several hundred meters (yards) more to the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee.

    "All those who held negotiations with the Syrians in the past were willing to make the most painful concessions. I know it’s hard to hear. Sometimes the truth is unpleasant," Olmert said, according to the meeting participant.

    During the sessions, three hardline lawmakers accused Olmert of preparing to give up the Golan. "You hate peace. You don’t want peace. You’re just drawing Israel into more wars," Olmert responded, according to the participant.

    The Israeli public opposes giving up the Golan, home to a thriving tourism and wine industry. An opinion poll last week found that only 19 percent of Israelis are willing to cede the entire plateau - even in exchange for peace. 

     

    CLOSER TIES 

    Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called on Monday for closer defense ties with Syria, the official IRNA news agency reported, a few days after Israel urged Damascus to distance itself from Tehran, Reuters reported.  

    "So far Iran's and Syria's joint and mutual relations in various fields have been of utmost usefulness and defense relations must expand to the extent possible," he told visiting Syrian Defense Minister Hassan Turkmani.

    The IRNA report gave no further details on military cooperation between the two Middle East countries, which the United States accuses of sponsoring terrorism.

    Iranian Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar described Syria on Sunday as a strategic ally.

    Pieter Wezeman, a researcher on conventional arms transfers at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), said Syria and Iran had military relations but their secretive nature made it difficult to say how substantial they were.

    He said Iran was believed to supply Syria mainly with ammunition but there were reports of other kinds of military cooperation. "It is extremely difficult to find any reliable information," Wezeman said by telephone from Stockholm.

    Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told on Monday a news conference in Beirut that Teheran did not have many details about the talks. "But we consider that the Golan belongs to Syria and must be returned to Syria without any conditions," he was quoted by Reuters as saying.

    Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said on Thursday Syria needed to distance itself from "problematic ties" with Iran. Syria, she said, must also stop "supporting terror -- Hezbollah, Hamas," two groups backed by Iran.

    Photo: AP

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