Israeli officials were upbeat this week after first round of peace talks were held with Syrian officials at a Maryland conference center.
But at the same time, the officials called on Syria to restrain the activities of the Islamic fundamentalist hezbollah movement, which launched a weekend Katyusha rocket attack on northern Israel, causing property damage and light injuries.
At Sunday’s weekly Cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Shimon Peres said the peace talks with Syria had been conducted in a good atmosphere and that the two sides had reached some understandings “on a number of points.”
Positive statements also came from the Syrian side, with Ambassador Walid Muallem characterizing the talks as useful and serious.
But Mauallem, the chief Syrian negotiator, said that “no finals agreements” had yet been reached, adding that the two sides were still trying to clarify their positions.
After a six-month hiatus, the Israeli-Syrian negotiations were held for the three days last week at the Wye Plantation is eastern Maryland.
Instead of returning home to their respective countries for consultations as originally planned, the Israeli and Syrian negotiating teams moved into hotels in Washington and reportedly agreed to remain in touch over the New Year’s holiday weekend.
They were expected to resume the formal negotiations Wednesday in Maryland.
An Israeli officials reportedly said that the two sides had remained in Washington because of progress in the talks.
While both sides agreed to resume the negotiations without any prior conditions, Syria has made it clear that any peace with Israel must entail in full Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights.
Israel has not yet publicly stated the extent of a withdrawal it would make for peace, but Peres has offered broad hints that he would agree to full withdrawal if the Syrians would agree to establish a full and meaningful peace with Israel.
The peace talks took place as Hezbollah fired Katyusha rockets into Israel late Friday night from Lebanon.
In late November, Hezbollah launched a series of Katyusha attacks on northern Israel, causing serious property damage, particularly in the northern Israeli community of Kiryat Shmona.
Hezbollah said the attack came in reprisal for an Israeli shelling attack earlier in the day in which a Lebanese man was killed and three others injured in a village in southern Lebanon.
Israeli troops exchanged fire with Hezbollah throughout the weekend. Two Israeli soldiers were wounded in fighting on Saturday.
Some 16 rockets fell inside the Israeli border during the Hezbollah attack, Israel Radio reported.
At the request of Israel, U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher phoned Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa to request that Damascus do more to calm the situation in Lebanon.
Sharaa promised to do so, but stressed that the latest rocket was sparked, in his view, by Israeli aggression in southern Lebanon.
In Jerusalem, Peres met with local council members from Kiryat Shmona, which is located on Israel’s border with Lebanon.
In the discussions – which focused on repair work and economic development of the area in the wake of the Katyusha assaults over the weekend and in November – council members called on the army to offer better protection to the town rocket attacks.