Olmert aide: Israel, Syria may hold direct talks soon

June 16, 2008 - 0:0

BEIT-UL-MOQADDAS (Xinhua) -- Israel and Syria will soon be able to hold direct talks, local daily Ha'aretz reported Sunday on its website, citing an aide of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert involved in the two countries' indirect negotiations.

Shalom Turgeman, Olmert's chief diplomatic aide, told foreign diplomats that talks which have so far been conducted via Turkey's mediation may soon move to the next stage.
Turgeman said he does not believe the talks will be affected by the latest corruption investigation against Olmert, who is suspected of having illicitly received hundreds of thousands of U.S. dollars from a Jewish American millionaire.
Turgeman and another Olmert adviser, Yoram Turbowicz, have taken part in a number of meetings in Istanbul over moving the negotiations forward, but no progress has been announced, Ha'aretz said.
Israel and Syria simultaneously announced last month that they began dialogues under Turkey's auspices with a goal of reaching a comprehensive peace, the first confirmation of diplomatic contacts between the two neighbors in eight years.
Peace negotiations between Israel and Syria broke off in 2000, when then Israeli Prime Minister and now Defense Minister Ehud Barak refused Syria's request to fully withdraw from the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau Israel seized in 1967 and annexed in 1981.
Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Fayssal Mekdad said on Saturday that Syria has the “non-peaceful” means to retrieve the Golan Heights, should peace talks with Israel fail to achieve that goal.
Mekdad, a former Syrian ambassador to the United Nations, told the Jordanian newspaper Ad-Dustour that Israelis living in the Golan Heights, whom he termed “settlers,” must know that Syria would “defend its land within minutes.”
Mekdad also reiterated to Israelis living in the area that the Golan Heights is Syrian territory and that they are “forbidden from raising children there, because it is not their place and they will not be able to reside there.” -