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Israel, Syria exchange messages in effort to resume stalled talks

JERUSALEM, Jan. 22 (JTA) — Israel and Syria are exchanging messages in an effort to resume long-stalled negotiations between the two countries. Foreign Minister David Levy has confirmed an Israeli newspaper report that he had been in touch with his counterpart, Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa, via an unnamed senior European official. Levy told Israel Radio on Wednesday that he hoped that the goal of the Syrian messages was to achieve peace, adding, “So the messages I am passing are with this aim.” Israel suspended negotiations with Damascus last March, after Syrian President Hafez Assad refused to condemn a wave of Hamas suicide bombings that targeted Israel at the time, claiming 59 innocent lives. Syria has demanded that the negotiations resume from where they left off, including the verbal assurances of the previous Labor government to consider withdrawals on the Golan Heights in exchange for peace. Israel captured the heights from Syria during the 1967 Six-Day War. Netanyahu has said both sides can raise whatever demands they want at the negotiations, but they must come to the table without any preconditions, including references to the unwritten assurances. Meanwhile, Levy said Wednesday that Israel would accept U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 as a basis for restarting the negotiations, as long as each side is able to interpret the resolution as it sees fit. The 1967 resolution was deliberately vague, but emphasizes an exchange of land for peace. Israeli officials point out that the resolution does not stipulate specific areas and that Israel has already exchanged land for peace. Speaking Wednesday to a gathering of foreign ambassadors in Jerusalem, Levy said both sides must realize that they will not get 100 percent of what they want. He issued a direct appeal to his Syrian counterpart to “meet any place, any time.” Many of the foreign ambassadors welcomed the gesture, saying that they hoped that last week’s Hebron agreement would help further progress in the other peace tracks. “We have an opportunity now and are working together with Israel to get talks moving with Syria and Lebanon,” U.S. Ambassador Martin Indyk told Israel Radio. Egyptian ambassador Mohammed Basiouny said the previous Labor government’s assurances to Syria should not be abandoned. “It is impossible to forget about the understandings achieved in five years and start from square one,” he said.