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Syria and Israel Agree to Resume Long-stalled Direct Negotiations

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After a 10-month hiatus, Israel and Syria will resume direct negotiations in Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher confirmed over the weekend.

The decision to renew the Washington talks, which were broken off by Syria in February following the Hebron massacre, came after Christopher returned from his sixth round of shuttle diplomacy to the Middle East this year.

Christopher gave no date for the resumption of negotiations, but he described the two sides as being “extremely serious” about returning to the bargaining table.

Israeli sources, meanwhile, said that Israel, Syria and the United States are in the process of finalizing details for expanding ongoing contacts between the Israeli and Syrian ambassadors in Washington to include senior military officers, according to the Hebrew daily Ha’aretz.

The sources said military officials from both countries would join the talks “very soon” to discuss security arrangements on the Golan Heights under an Israeli-Syrian peace agreement, Ha’aretz reported.

Israel and Syria reportedly reached agreement for military officers to secretly join the Washington talks earlier this year. But after details were leaked to the Israeli media, Syria backed out, saying it would not participate in any kind of secret contacts.

On Friday, Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa said Syria would not hold secret talks with Israel. He called the resumption of Washington discussions “not negotiations, but an exchange of ideas.”

Over the weekend, Rabin cautiously welcomed Syria’s agreement to resume negotiations in Washington. Speaking to reporters in Oslo where he received the Nobel Peace Prize, Rabin said an exchange views “is better then nothing.”

Israeli-Syrian negotiations have been deadlocked for months over a Syrian demand that Israel commit to a full withdrawal from the Golan. Israel, in turn, has called on Syria to spell out the nature of the peace it is seeking before Israel makes any commitment regarding the Golan.

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