07/01/2008, 00.00
ISRAEL – SYRIA
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New round of indirect talks today between Israel and Syria

Talks are taking in place in Turkey with the host country playing the role of mediator. Damascus wants US involvement but might have to wait for George Bush to leave office. In Israel the idea of holding a referendum on land return is gaining ground.
Jerusalem (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The third round of talks between Israel and Syria are being held today in Istanbul with Turkey as mediator. The atmosphere is one of waiting even though the fact that they are continuing at all is in itself a positive sign. Two factors are now emerging as important, namely, the possibility of moving from indirect to direct talks which the Syrians want closely tied to deep US involvement and a possible referendum in Israel on “ceding” the Golan Heights. In Israel a bill calling for such a referendum passed the first reading stage.

Sitting in two separate hotels with Turkish mediators shuttling back and forth, the two delegations are not like to go beyond technical issues and are not likely to get to core issues like direct talks.

Syria wants the total return of the strategically important and water rich Heights, which Israel captured in the 1967 War, in exchange for peace.

Faced with surveys indicating that a majority of Israelis are against returning the Golan, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has used vague words on the territorial question.

He did say though that his country wants Damascus to pull back from Iran and terrorist movements, i.e. Hizbollah and Hamas.

The European Union's ambassador to Israel, Ramiro Cibrián-Uzal, said at a press briefing Monday that Israel's expectation that Syria cut ties with Iran could not be done without the full engagement of the US in the process. And this, he said, was unlikely to happen until after a new US president was sworn into office, since President George W. Bush had reluctantly accepted the current process with a lot of scepticism.

On Monday Syrian President Bashar Assad dubbed the political climate in the Middle East “positive”, and called on the EU to increase its involvement in the peace talks with Israel.  He also noted that the political climate in Israel was also generally positive.

The president also called on Europe to "renew its role in the region, especially within the Israeli-Arab peace process.

A step in that direction may come on 13 July in Paris when the Mediterranean Union Summit will open. Olmert and Syrian President Bashar Assad will participate alongside some 50 other heads of state. A fourth round of talks will be held in Istanbul before the summit.

The Syrians have however already excluded possibility that this may be a chance for direct negotiations, but it cannot be excluded that the two sides will have an opportunity to talk, at least “indirectly.”

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