More indirect Israel, Syria talks in July: Turkey

LUXEMBOURG (Reuters) – Israel and Syria agreed this week to hold new rounds of indirect peace talks mediated by Turkey in July, Turkey’s foreign minister said on Tuesday.

Israel and Syria concluded a second round of indirect peace talks on Monday and agreed to continue the negotiations, though not face-to-face for now, officials said.

“Yesterday and the day before the negotiations went very successfully and more importantly the calendar was set for the next two meetings, which will be held in July,” Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan told a news conference after EU-Turkey talks in Luxembourg.

“I do not wish to elevate expectations because this is a very complicated matter, although compared to the Israeli Palestinian issue it is not as complicated,” he said.

“As long as we see hope for peace we are determined to continue this process. Of course the will of both parties is very important.”

Israeli and Turkish officials described the two days of talks — the first negotiations between the long-time foes in eight years — as positive and constructive.

A senior Israeli official said on Monday the sides had agreed to continue meeting on a “permanent basis” and Turkey said the meetings would be held regularly.

Israeli officials have said the possibility of a meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was not part of the negotiations.

However Israeli political sources said on Monday that Olmert’s envoys, Yoram Turbowicz and Shalom Turjeman, intended to propose that Olmert and Assad meet in Paris next month, when both are expected to attend a July 13 summit of a new union of European and Mediterranean countries.

An Israeli source said French President Nicolas Sarkozy was trying to arrange a three-way meeting but had not yet received final confirmation from Damascus.

The last direct talks — between then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq al-Shara — stalled in 2000 in a dispute over how much of the Golan Heights, which Israel captured in a 1967 war, should go back to Syria.

Damascus is firm in demanding all the Golan.

Olmert has been hazy in public on whether his government would satisfy this, saying only that “difficult concessions” may be required for peace with Syria but that he has made no promises regarding the territory.

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