Assad: Syria Committed to Peace, but Has No Faith in Israel

Syrian president says talks cannot continue without Israeli committment to leave all of Golan Heights.

Syria is committed to seeking peace with Israel but has no faith in the present Israeli government, President Bashar al-Assad said on Wednesday, after a war of words between the two sides.

"War is the worst solution. We must continue to seek peace. Does this mean that we have hope in the current Israeli government? No," Assad told the Lebanese television station al-Manar, which is owned by the Shi'ite movement Hezbollah.

"I don't think that Israel, from what we hear from its supporters, has any choice except peace. Israel is effectively weaker and military force is no longer a guarantor of Israel's existence," he added.

Four rounds of indirect peace talks between Syria and Israel, which were being mediated by Turkey, broke down in 2008.

Syria says the talks cannot continue without an Israeli commitment to withdraw from whole of the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau which Israel captured in 1967.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said last month Israel was "behaving like thugs" and planting the seeds of a war in the Middle East that might not spare Israeli cities.

Moualem was responding to remarks by Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak raising the specter of an "all out war" with Syria if peace were not achieved between the two foes.

Syria's continued support for Hezbollah formed the backdrop to the rhetoric, diplomats said. U.S. officials have also warned Syria against maintaining support for the armed movement, which is also backed by Iran.

Assad said the Syrian government was steadfast in backing what he described as Arab resistance forces, but peace remained its first option.

"Even the resistance wants peace. They were formed because of the absence of peace," Assad said.

Hezbollah was set up with Iranian and Syrian support during the Israeli occupation of Lebanese territory in the 1980s. It also fought a war with Israel in 2006 that cost Lebanon a heavy civilian toll, but it remains a formidable guerrilla force.

U.S.-supervised direct talks collapsed in 2000 after the late President Hafez al-Assad, Bashar's father, refused to sign a deal that did not return what he considered the whole of the Golan.