Syria says Israel terms signal not serious on peace

KUWAIT (Reuters) – Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said if Israel keeps insisting that peace talks resume from scratch it would show the Jewish state was not serious about reaching a deal with Syria.

Israel and Syria said last month they had launched indirect peace talks mediated by Turkish officials, the first negotiations between the two sides in eight years.

The last peace talks came close to a deal over the Golan Heights but broke down in 2000 over control of the shore of Sea of Galilee, from which Israel takes much of its water.

Syria wants the full return of the Golan Heights, which Israel seized from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war.

Assad said during a visit to Kuwait that the Israelis were insisting that negotiations restart from scratch and that the progress made in the earlier talks in the 1990s be cancelled.

“This signals that Israel does not desire peace and is not willing to reach it,” he said in comments carried by Kuwait’s state news agency KUNA.

“We are now testing the water… and this means regaining the occupied Golan… and if we reach a solution on this issue then what remains are other issues that are the second stage of talks.”

Assad also dismissed Israeli demands that Syria give up its alliance with Iran as a condition for peace.

Israeli officials have a said a peace deal depends on Syria distancing itself from Iran and severing ties with Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement and the Palestinian group Hamas.

“We do not accept the imposition of conditions on us that are linked to countries that have nothing to do with the peace…” he said, adding that Iran had welcomed the talks.

“Should we establish relations with Israel and lose our relations with the world?”

Many analysts say U.S. hostility to Syria makes a peace deal with Israel unlikely before U.S. President George W. Bush leaves office in January.

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