06/16/2008, 00.00
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Intense diplomatic activity involving Israel, Syria and Hamas

Turkey-mediated talks between Israel and Syria continue as Egypt works on the Israel-Hamas track. Envoys of French President Sarkozy are received by Syria’s Bashar al-Assad.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – Israel has become the focus of intense diplomatic activity as the latest stage in the indirect negotiations between Syria and Israel via Turkish mediation ends. Indirect contacts between the Jewish State and Hamas continue instead via Egyptian mediators. Meanwhile France reports “constructive” talks between its envoys and Syrian officials in Damascus whilst Syrian sources insist on the need for the United States to intervene in the negotiations with Israel.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's chief of staff, Yoram Turbowicz, and his foreign policy adviser, Shalom Turgeman, were in Turkey’s capital Ankara for another round of indirect talks with the Syrians. The possibility for direct talks next month, the first time in decades, was on the agenda. However, a Turkish Foreign Affairs official excluded a direct meeting between Syria’s president and Israel’s prime minister.

By contrast Israeli President Shimon Peres said that if “the Syrians are genuinely seeking peace then they must hold a summit meeting between Syrian President Bashar Assad and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.”

“Had Sadat not come to Jerusalem, we would not have had peace with Egypt,” Israel’s president said, recalling then-Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's historic visit to Israel in 1977.

Still negotiations with Syria remain highly complex, made even more difficult by Israel’s internal political instability with Prime Minister Olmert coming under increasing pressure to resign and a majority of Israelis still very reluctant to give up the Golan Heights even in exchange for peace, which is the goal of the talks. In fact just yesterday Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Haim Ramon expressed his opposition to the way talks with Syria were being conducted.

Whilst Israeli diplomats were in Ankara Syrian President Assad received two French envoys, Elysée Secretary-General Claude Gueant and Sarkozy's chief diplomatic aide Jean-David Levitte. For the French these talks were “useful and constructive” and focused largely on bilateral ties, Lebanon, Israeli-Syrian relations and an upcoming meeting on the Union for the Mediterranean.

This meeting marks a new stage in Western pressures on Syria to loosen its ties with Iran and groups like Hizbollah and Hamas.

In Cairo Hamas representatives held talks for two days with the head of Egyptian intelligence Suleiman, who is trying to broker a cease-fire between the Islamist group and Israel.

The Gordian knot now seems to be Israel’s request that Hamas free Gilad Shalit, an Israeli corporal kidnapped by Hamas, as a precondition to suspending hostilities and ending the blockade of the Gaza Strip, which is the goal of the negotiations.

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See also
Still working on a ceasefire in Gaza
Israeli soldier's fate hanging on ultimatum, diplomacy and military pressure
Israel wondering “how and when” Hizbollah will exact revenge for Mugniyah’s killing
Hamas announces 18-month truce with Israel
Signs Olmert and Abbas might be ready to talk


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