Turkish, Syrian leaders talk about Mideast peace | world | Hindustan Times
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Turkish, Syrian leaders talk about Mideast peace

world Updated: Jul 22, 2009 20:58 IST

Turkey's prime minister said on Wednesday he has been asked to help mediate again in the Arab-Israeli conflict, speaking ahead of talks in Syria with the president.

The Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan helped mediate last year in four rounds of indirect peace negotiations between Israel and Syria. But Syria suspended them in December over Israel's military offensive in Gaza.

Before he left for talks with President Bashar Assad in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, Erdogan reiterated Turkey's readiness to help restart indirect talks between Syria and Israel. Turkey has also offered to mediate in other tracks of the Arab-Israeli peace process.

"New requests regarding this process may come up. ... In fact, they have already started to come," Erdogan told a news conference. He did not say who made the requests.

After the talks Syria's state-run news agency SANA said the two leaders discussed "the need to achieve a just a comprehensive peace in the Middle East which requires the presence of a real Israeli political will."

Assad said earlier this month that there is no "real partner" in Israel to make peace, stressing that a halt to Jewish settlements in the West Bank is essential to restart talks.

Syria has said it is willing to resume the Turkish-mediated talks if they focus on a complete Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, captured in 1967. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he is not willing to cede the territory Syria wants.

A state-run newspaper reaffirmed in an editorial that Syria is keen to restore all the Golan Heights and would not agree to start negotiations from scratch.

"It's not in the interest of peace to waste time or efforts or to return to point zero under the pretext of preconditions," said the government's Al-Thawra newspaper.

"Moving toward negotiations means an endorsement of a full withdrawal from the occupied land," it added.

Assad said in a newspaper interview in March that the Turkish-mediated talks failed because Israel would not make a clear commitment to return all of the Golan up to the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee.

Assad said Israel wanted to keep some disputed land around the Galilee, its main water source.

Israel, for its part, demands that Syria end its support for the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas. Direct talks between Israel and Syria under U.S. auspices also failed in 2000 over the extent of an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan.

Last month, President Barack Obama's special Mideast peace envoy, George Mitchell, became the highest-level U.S. administration official to visit Damascus since 2005. He acknowledged Syria's clout, declaring Damascus has a key role to play in forging Mideast peace.

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