05/21/2008, 00.00
ISRAEL - SYRIA - TURKEY

It's official: Damascus and Jerusalem are talking peace

Sources of both governments have made the announcement simultaneously. Talks are taking place thanks to the mediation of Turkey. The process does not look easy: in exchange for the Golan Heights, Israel wants peace from Syria, plus an end to support for Hamas and Hezbollah, and separation from Iran.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) - Israel and Syria today announced that they have undertaken "indirect peace talks, under Turkish mediation".  The announcement, made simultaneously by Damascus and Jerusalem, confirms officially the rumours that have been circulating for almost a year.

The news was released by the official Syrian agency SANA, from "an official source of the foreign ministry", according to whom "both sides have expressed their desire to conduct the talks in good will and decided to continue dialogue with seriousness to achieve comprehensive peace" according to the guidelines of the Madrid peace conference.  The statement released by the office of Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert is similar.  Both the Israelis and the Syrians then express their thanks to Turkey for its action of mediation.

The distance that remains to be travelled does not appear easy.  In principle, Damascus is offering peace in exchange for the restitution of the Golan Heights, strategic and with an abundance of water, taken by Israel during the Six Days War.  The proposal is simply for a comprehensive peace in exchange for all of the Heights.

The Israeli position seems to be more intricate.  For some time, rumours that have not been denied hypothesise that Jerusalem, in addition to peace, wants Syria to end its support for Hamas and Hezbollah, and to distance itself from Iran.  And it cannot be taken for granted that the restitution will concern the entire extent of the Heights, on which there are many Israeli settlements.  Last month, in fact, the news released by an "independent" agency on the "secret talks" provoked lively political reactions, and the proposal was even advanced to introduce a law according to which the restitution of the Heights would be put to a referendum.

According to Israeli experts, Syria is also prepared to separate itself from Tehran, Hamas, and Hezbollah, on the condition of economic and political support from the United States.  The U.S. certainly has interests in a breaking of ties between Syria and Iran, partly and perhaps above all in the perspective of the stabilisation of Iraq.  At the beginning of this month, moreover, secretary of state Condoleezza Rice expressed support for Turkish mediation, but added that the United States also wants an end to Syrian interference in Lebanon.  Washington, then, is expanding and therefore complicating the question, bringing to mind the need for a different policy on the part of the White House, perhaps determined by Bush's successor.  Next year.

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