Attention Turns to Peace with Syria As Israeli Leaders Visit U.s., Germany

Efforts to revive Israeli-Syrian peace negotiations are expected to be a central topic when Israeli leaders visit Europe and the United States this week.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Ehud Barak brought up the issue, calling on Syria to end bloodshed and pursue peace. His call came during a state ceremony for the 2,687 Israeli soldiers who fell in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

“To our Syrian neighbors led by President [Hafez] Assad, who also sustained many losses in the Yom Kippur War, we say this is the time for the peace of the brave.

“Enough of war, enough of bloodshed. We and our neighbors must understand that there will be no peace without security.”

Later Tuesday, Barak traveled to Berlin, where he became the first foreign leader to visit there since the German capital was moved from Bonn earlier this year.

Barak was expected to discuss reviving Israeli-Syrian talks when he meets with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

Barak was also expected to bring up the topic on Wednesday, when he was slated to travel to Paris for talks with President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Lionel Jospin.

Chirac, who has repeatedly sought an expanded role in the Middle East peace process, met with Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa over the weekend.

While Barak is interested in European involvement in the peace process, especially with regard to economic assistance, he prefers that the United States have the lead mediating role, the Israeli daily Ha’aretz reported Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister David Levy was also expected to discuss the dormant Syrian negotiating track when he visits New York this week to attend the U.N. General Assembly.

Both he and Sharaa were scheduled to hold separate meetings with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on the sidelines of the General Assembly.

Israeli officials downplayed speculation that Levy and Sharaa would meet face to face.

Before his departure for New York, Levy accused Palestinian and Arab officials of using every international forum to attack Israel, telling Israel Radio that he plans to have consultations in the United States to stop the trend.

Regarding Syria, Levy said that every time Israel conveys its interest in renewing talks with Damascus, Syria has hardened its own stance.

Israel suspended negotiations with Syria in 1996, when Assad failed to condemn a series of terror attacks Hamas launched at the time against Israeli targets.

The two sides, who differ on what was agreed to before the talks ended, have yet to agree on a formula for renewing discussions.

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