Israel, Syria said to have made progress in talks
Latest round of negotiations covered water, security and borders, Syrian official tells a-Sharq al-Awsat.
In their latest round of indirect talks, Israel and Syria made progress on the contentious issues of water, security, borders and normalization of relations, the London-based a-Sharq al-Awsat quoted a Syrian official as saying on Friday.
A Syrian official close to the negotiations said that the issues were discussed on general lines, according to the report. The official added that in the next round of talks, the sides would negotiate the fundamental issues.
The official said direct negotiations could begin in the near future, due to will exhibited by both sides.
He said that the commencement of direct talks harbored on political and regional conditions. He added that Israel has agreed in principle to the implementation of joint security efforts as a trust-building step.
Regarding the possibility of Israel leasing parts of the Golan Heights amid the framework of a peace agreement, the Syrian official said: "The principle here is the return of all of the Golan Heights to Syrian sovereignty. Also in Sinai, security arrangements were arranged, but the penninsula has remained under Egyptian sovereignty.
The official said the issue of Damascus' ties with Iran and Hezbollah would be postponed to a later date. He stressed that the matter of relations with Iran was not raised in the framework of discussions and said Syria had not been asked to cut off ties.
Syria is concerned primarily with its own interest and Iran understands this, the official told the paper.
Meanwhile, a senior Israeli official said Thursday that negotiations with Syria were unlikely to resume next week, despite reports to the contrary from Damascus.
The Israeli official said that due to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's planned visit to the United States on Monday with associates, the talks would be delayed for approximately two more weeks.
The official affirmed that the internal political row embroiling Olmert amid the investigation against him would not harm the process with Syria.
"It is in the interest of both sides. It has taken so long to reach this point, and we have no intention of ending it now," said the official.
A prominent Syrian journalist wrote Thursday in the London-based Arabic-language paper Al-Hayat that the peace talks could resume as early as next week Prime Minister Ehud Olmert manages to overcome his domestic problems.
Ibrahim Hamidi, who is considered Syria's leading independent journalist, said that Damascus was anxious to return to the negotiating table and that serious progress had been made in the talks so far.
"Damascus will do all it can to further talks," he wrote. "It is examining every small move with hope on the way to peace."
He reiterated Syrian officials' claim that Israel's government had agreed to withdraw to the 1967 border, which Jerusalem denies. "When we mean the talks are serious, we mean that the other side is committed to a full withdrawal to the border of June 4, 1967," Hamidi quoted a Syrian source as saying.
Also Thursday, President Shimon Peres said that if Syrian President Bashar Assad is serious about reaching peace with Israel, he should either visit Jerusalem or invite the prime minister to Damascus for talks.
"If [former] Egyptian President Anwar Sadat has not come to Jerusalem and addressed the Knesset, there would not have been peace with Egypt," Peres told Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen.