Syria Says Willing to Renew Peace Talks With Israel

Syria's FM says talks must focus on a full Israeli withdrawal from the entire Golan Heights.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem said Wednesday his country was willing to resume indirect peace talks with Israel's new government. But he said it would only do so if the talks focused on an Israeli withdrawal from the entire Golan Heights to lines that preceded the 1967 Six Day War.

Moallem made the statements during a news conference with Italy's foreign minister. Indirect talks through Turkish mediation broke off after Israel's offensive against Hamas in Gaza started in December.

The extent of withdrawal is a major issue. Israel has not confirmed it would pull back to the pre-war lines, which Syria insists on.

Israel, Moallem said, must also stick by what he said were earlier commitments that the discussions would not affect Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and that Israel would refrain from attacking Gaza or Lebanon, two places where anti-Israel militants operate, while the talks were under way.

Earlier this week, Syria's President Bashar Assad vowed that "the day in which we will be liberated [on the Golan] is at hand - by peace or war."

Assad told the Qatari newspaper A-Sharq in an interview published on Thursday: "This enemy does not want peace. What is the alternative? The parallel route to the peace process is resistance. The Israeli will not come by his own will, so there is no alternative but for him to come from fear."

Last month, Assad told the Italian newspaper La Repubblica that Ehud Olmert agreed to withdraw from all of the Golan Heights during indirect peace talks with Damascus.

Assad said Israel and Syria were within "touching distance" of clinching a peace agreement.

Meanwhile, in his first public statements since assuming his post this week, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman was cool to continued peace talks with Damascus.

"There is no cabinet resolution regarding negotiations with Syria, and we have already said that we will not agree to withdraw from the Golan Heights," Lieberman said. "Peace will only be in exchange for peace."