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European Union envoy seeks to jump-start Israel-Syria talks

BRUSSELS, Jan. 22 (JTA) — The European Union’s special Middle East envoy will travel to Syria in the coming days in an attempt to restart Israeli-Syrian negotiations. Miguel Angel Moratinos received unanimous backing for the mission during a meeting of the 15 E.U. foreign ministers. Moratinos told the ministers that he was optimistic about the peace process because, he was quoted as saying, “one must judge Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu on his acts” — a reference to Israel’s transfer last week of most of the West Bank town of Hebron to Palestinian self-rule. Moratinos, a former Spanish ambassador to Israel, was named last year to act as a regional envoy in order to secure for Europe a larger role in the peace process. An unnamed senior European Cabinet minister is involved in ongoing contacts between Israel and Syria, the Israeli daily Ha’aretz reported this week. Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy confirmed the report Wednesday. In a separate development, Netanyahu has postponed plans to attend later this month a meeting of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, France. During the visit, which Israeli officials said was canceled “for timetable reasons,” the Israeli premier was slated to take part in a session of the council’s Parliamentary Assembly. The council has 40 nations as members and seeks to promote democracy and human rights throughout Europe. The Israeli Knesset has observer status within the council’s assembly.