Israel: No plans to talk to Syria

JERUSALEM, Feb. 28 (JTA) — Israel is dismissing speculation about an imminent resumption of peace talks with Syria.

Foreign Minister David Levy said such reports were “pure speculation,” and Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s office said Israel had no information when and whether the negotiations would resume.

Their comments Monday came in the wake of reports that Syria is interested in resuming the talks. The reported interest in Damascus came after Barak hinted during Sunday’s weekly Cabinet session that he might agree to a full Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights.

Syria suspended the talks with Israel in January, charging that Israel was not willing to agree to a Golan withdrawal. Israel had insisted on first discussing security and normalization issues.

Barak told his Cabinet ministers that his four predecessors understood that negotiations with the Syrians would be based on a full Israeli withdrawal to the border that existed before the 1967 Six-Day War.

He also said his government would not ignore the negotiating stances of its predecessors.

His remarks drew immediate protests from the Israeli opposition.

Former Likud prime ministers Yitzhak Shamir and Benjamin Netanyahu categorically denied Barak’s statement.

Likud leader Ariel Sharon accused Barak of “hiding behind his predecessors in office, instead of coming out and saying he intends to carry out a full withdrawal.”

Justice Minister Yossi Beilin countered that Shamir and Netanyahu, as well as former Labor prime ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, had acknowledged the principle of the full withdrawal.

“None of the prime ministers sent a map” to Syrian President Hafez Assad with the June 4, 1967 borders and said he is ready to withdraw,” Beilin told Israel Radio. “But what was said in recent years in various wordings was the basic understanding of a Golan Heights withdrawal in exchange for security for Israel and arrangements we want.”

Meanwhile, Syria has reportedly demanded that Barak state in writing that his predecessors made a commitment for full withdrawal.

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