Syria Indicates Willingness to Resume Peace Negotiations

Senior Egyptian officials were actively working this week to jump-start the stalled peace process between Israel and Syria.

After meeting Tuesday with Syrian President Hafez Assad in Damascus, Egyptian Foreign Minister Amre Moussa said Syria was ready to resume negotiations with Israel if they are based on the land-for-peace principle.

The previous Israeli Labor government, which was open to a territorial concession on the Golan Heights in exchange for security guarantees, suspended negotiations in March, after Syria refused to condemn a series of suicide bombings in Israel.

Netanyahu has called for a resumption of the talks without preconditions, but he also is opposed to any Israeli withdrawal from the Golan.

Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa, who accompanied Moussa to the airport, said Syria was ready to restart negotiations, “from the point where from they stopped.”

An aide to Netanyahu welcomed al-Sharaa’s statement and expressed hope that the Syrians would return to the talks without preconditions.

Meanwhile, Egyptian presidential adviser Osama el-Baz met this week in Paris with the diplomatic adviser to Israel’s prime minister, Dore Gold, and U.S. Middle East envoy Dennis Ross.

Gold described the meetings as “very useful.”

The talks focused on regional issues, including a Middle East economic conference scheduled to take place in Cairo in November.

Last week, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak threatened to cancel the conference if there was no progress in Israeli-Palestinian talks.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu phoned Mubarak to assure him that talks with the Palestinian Authority would resume soon.

The latest efforts to get Israel and Syria back to the negotiating table come against the backdrop of recent reports of Syrian troop movements in Lebanon, which security sources said were prompted by concern about a possible Israeli air attack.

The reported Syrian maneuvers came after Israeli government and military officials warned against possible longer-range Katyusha rockets falling into the hands of Hezbollah that could threaten northern Israeli communities and after the recent test-launch by Syria of a new Scud missile.

Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai sought to calm any alarm, saying Tuesday that Israel was not interested in provoking any hostilities.

Mordechai was speaking in Tel Aviv after a ceremony marking the recent successful test of the Arrow-2 anti-missile missile.

U.S. Ambassador Martin Indyk, who was also at the ceremony for the joint Israel-U.S. missile project, said there was no need for panic.

“We don’t think it’s a situation that is likely to get out of hand,” Indyk told reporters. “I think that President Assad has made clear that he is committed to pursue the peace process, as well.”

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