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    Turkey sees scope for direct Israel-Syria talks

    Hurriyet English with wires
    27.05.2008 - 12:17 | Son Güncelleme:

    The indirect peace talks between Israel and Syria, mediated by Turkey, could be upgraded to face-to-face encounters if progress is made, Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan told Tuesday a news conference in Brussels, Reuters reported. (UPDATED)

    "A common ground is now being formed and that common ground is considered to be satisfactory by both sides," Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan told a news conference in Brussels. 

    Israel and Syria announced last week they had begun a dialogue with the aim of a comprehensive peace, the first confirmation of negotiations between the long-time enemies in eight years, as a result of a process that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said began in February 2007.       

    Babacan said Israel-Syria is one of the most important parts of Middle East peace process adding Turkey undertook a facilitator role, upon a demand by both countries.

    "If meaningful and concrete developments take place in these mediated talks, it will be possible at that time to have direct meetings between the two sides," he added.

    However he stressed it was the very beginning of this process and it is not going to be an easy one.

    Turkey hosted three days of talks in Istanbul last week and has said a further round is scheduled to take place shortly.

    Israel has set terms for a peace deal that include the demand that Damascus distance itself from Iran and stop supporting Palestinian and Lebanese militants.

    Syria wants the return of the Golan Heights, a plateau overlooking Damascus on one side and the Sea of Galilee on another, which Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

    Babacan was in Brussels to review Turkey's accession talks with the European Union. 

     

    ISOLATION OF IRAN

    Any peace deal between Israel and Syria would dramatically change the face of the Middle East, in particular by isolating Iran, an Israeli cabinet minister said on Tuesday, the AFP reported.        

    "Peace with Syria would break up the current strategic situation because it would isolate Iran and silence (Lebanese Shiite militant movement) Hezbollah," said Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer.

    "We are talking about a true peace, an end to hostilities, an opening of the borders, and Israel is ready to pay the price for such a peace and coexistence with Syria," he told public radio.

    Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called on Monday for closer defense ties with Syria, 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 said.

    Ben Eliezer said he would visit the Golan on Tuesday to discuss with the local population its electricity and development needs.

    Opinion polls show that two thirds of Israelis are opposed to withdrawing from the Golan, which is now home to some 20,000 Jewish settlers and about 18,000 Syrians.

      

    DEATH PENALTY 

    Israeli extreme-right MP Arieh Eldad on Monday demanded the death penalty for anyone who hands over the occupied Golan Heights to Syria, public radio reported.

    "Anyone who gives up part of Eretz Israel (Greater Israel) faces the death penalty," said Eldad, an MP of the National Union-National Religious Party, an opposition coalition.

    Eldad’s remarks were disavowed by National Religios Party chief Zevulun Orlev. "Political assassination is something is banned. Such a call threatens to undermine the struggle against a withdrawal from the Golan," Orlev said.

    MP Yoel Hasson of Olmert’s Kadima party dismissed Eldad's comments as "intolerable statements made by a provocateur."

    Olmert told MPs earlier on Monday that Israel was left with no choice but to launch indirect peace talks with Syria, a top Israeli official said.

    In 1995 an extreme-right Israeli activist assassinated former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, in the aftermath of autonomy accords signed between Israel and the Palestinians.

    Photo: AA

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