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Wide Gaps Emerge in New Israel-Syria Peace Talks

By Robert Berger
03 June 2008

Wide gaps have emerged in new negotiations between Israel and Syria. Robert Berger reports from the VOA bureau in Jerusalem.

Peace talks hit an early snag over the scope of an Israeli withdrawal from the strategic Golan Heights, captured from Syria during the 1967 Mideast war. Israel responded angrily to published remarks by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who said an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan must go all the way to Tiberias, a city on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. That would mean that Syria would control the eastern shore of the lake - territory it did not hold before the war.

Israel's Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz had this response during a visit to the Golan Heights.

"Syria is not ready for peace," he said, adding that "they are up to their necks in terrorism." That was a reference to Syria's support for Hezbollah in Lebanon and Palestinian militant groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad. But what most worries Israel are Syria's ties with Iran.

Mofaz said if Israel hands over the Golan to Syria, Iran would move in. And with Iran allegedly seeking nuclear weapons and threatening to wipe the Jewish state "off the map," that is the last thing that Israel wants.

Mofaz's comments point to a dilemma facing Israel. On the one hand, it wants to lure Syria into the camp of the Arab moderates and away from the militants led by Iran. On the other hand, as Mofaz put it, the Golan is a strategic asset and giving it up is inconceivable.

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