Syria warns Israel it risks closing door to talks

By AFC – 10 Dec 2009
www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5h396sJxb-lBMTfdg_LwcCxXL6_kw

DAMASCUS — Syria warned Israel on Thursday it risked closing the door to renewed peace talks, a day after the Israeli parliament agreed to consider a bill that would make it far more difficult to return the occupied Golan.

“The current Israeli government of (Benjamin) Netanyahu is perfectly aware that Syria will not resume indirect talks brokered by Turkey unless this prime minister commits himself to a full withdrawal from the Golan,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

“Syria’s recovery of its occupied territory is non-negotiable as it is a right recognised by UN resolutions.”

Israel seized the Golan Heights in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it in 1981, in a move never recognised by the international community.

Israeli MPs passed a bill backed by Netanyahu’s right-leaning government at first reading on Wednesday which would require any withdrawal from annexed territory to be approved by an absolute majority in the 120-seat parliament and then be put to a referendum within 80 days.

The bill still needs to be approved at two further readings before it can become law but it received the backing of 68 MPs on its first outing.

But Syria hit out at Netanyahu for giving his government’s support to the bill’s passage through parliament, saying he was going back on the policy of previous Israeli governments over nearly two decades.

“Since the launch of peace negotiations at the Madrid conference (in 1991), every Israeli prime minister has committed to a full withdrawal from the Golan to the June 4, 1967 line,” according to the ministry statement.

“Through this action, Israel is once again defying the desire of the international community to achieve a comprehensive peace in the region in accordance with international resolutions and the principle of the exchange of land for peace.

“Israel is defying the whole world with its rejection of peace and it is proving that its government’s stated wish to make peace is nothing but a political manoeuvre.”

The previous Israeli government of Ehud Olmert held a series of Turkish-brokered peace feelers with Syria last year but they were broken off following Israel’s devastating offensive against Gaza at the turn of the year.

Turkey’s relations with Israel have become increasingly strained since the Gaza war and last month Trade and Industry Minister Benjamin Ben Eliezer made a fence-mending visit to Istanbul.

But that trip was overshadowed by comments by ultra-nationalist Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman ruling out Turkey as a broker in any renewed contacts with Syria.

On Monday, Netanyahu himself said he would prefer French mediation.

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