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Saturday, January 1, 2011

US in secret talks with Syria over peace deal with Israel

The US has been in secret contact with Syrian officials in the hopes of realising a comprehensive Israel-Syrian peace treaty, the Kuwaiti al-Rai newspaper reported Saturday.

The past few weeks had witnessed an 'unprecedented Syrian cooperation' in the peace process, prompting Washington to talk with Syrian officials to reach a peace agreement between Syria and Israel, informed sources told al-Rai.

Sources said Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem had sent positive signals to the US showing that 'the Syrians are ready to re-engage in dialogue with the Israelis to reach peace'.

President Barack Obama's administration believes that an Israeli-Syrian peace agreement will be 'a breakthrough in the peace process as a whole to achieve peace in the Palestinian territories'.

Sources said that Obama adviser Denis Ross told the US administration that he found 'Syria ready to move away from Iran and reduce relations with Hezbollah and Hamas, and work with the United States in the fight against terrorism.'

The Israelis, for their part, expressed a willingness to return to Syria the occupied Golan Heights, reach an agreement on water rights, and normalise relations with Damascus.

Syrian demands the return of the Golan, a strategic plateau overlooking northern Israel, as a prerequisite for any peace deal with the Jewish state.

Israel captured the Golan in the 1967 war, and in 1981 parliament passed a law applying Israeli 'laws, jurisdiction and administration' to the territory, in effect annexing it.

The annexation was not recognised internationally.

Direct Israeli-Syrian peace talks fell apart in 2000, over a dispute over Syrian access to the Sea of Galilee, as per the de facto border which existed prior to the 1967 war.

Turkish mediated Israeli-Syrian talks also failed to produce any breakthrough.