Israel for resuming talks with Syria

JERUSALEM, DEC. 30. Israel has proposed resuming peace negotiations with Syria without any preconditions, media reports in Israel said today.

According to Israel Radio, the Syrian President, Mr. Bashar Assad, is also ready to resume peace talks with Israel from the point a previous round of negotiations which broke off in March 2000. According to the report, Mr. Assad indicated to the U.S. West Asia envoy, Mr. William Burns, that the new talks could resume without any preconditions. Mr. Burns was in the Syrian capital Damascus last week for talks.

The March 2000 talks broke off with the sides unable to agree on the demarcation of the new Israeli-Syrian border. Syria is demanding a complete Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, which the Jewish state captured in the 1967 war. While the then-Israeli Premier, Mr. Ehud Barak, was willing in principle to withdraw from the Golan, he refused a Syrian demand for Israel to withdraw to the shore of the Sea of Galilee.

However, current Premier, Mr. Ariel Sharon, has in the past spoken out against an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau which overlooks much of northern Israel. The Israeli Ha'Aretz daily reported today that the Foreign Minister, Mr. Shimon Peres, recently issued a statement saying Israel was ready to resume negotiations with Syria without any preconditions.

However, Mr. Peres' view is that there is little chance of sealing a deal with the Syrians, and Israel should first try to make progress on the Palestinian track. According to the authoritative Israeli daily, the so-called ``Syrian track'' has been used several times in the past, in an effort to exert pressure on Palestinian Authority by indicating that Israel has other diplomatic options apart from the Palestinian track.

Meanwhile, the Israeli Foreign Ministry has, in a secret report, noted that violence in the Palestinian territories has gone down in the past two weeks.

According to the leaked report compiled by the Ministry's Political Research Department, ``the Palestinian Authority is struggling more energetically against the violence since Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's speech of December 16'' in which he called for an end to attacks on Israel.

The lull in violence could hasten the U.S. mediator, Gen. Anthony Zinni's return to the region. He had left the region on Dec. 16 after witnessing some of the worst violence of the 15- month Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation.

A State Department official said in Washington the aim was for Gen. Zinni to return to West Asia after the year-end holidays, but no specific travel was currently planned. The U.S. said he would return if Palestinians took more concrete steps to end attacks by militants and if Israelis eased restrictions on Palestinians.


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