Britain Optimistic on Syria-Israel Peace

Published May 15th, 2000 - 02:00 GMT

British Foreign Office Minister Peter Hain said after meeting Syrian leaders on Sunday he was optimistic about prospects for peace between Syria and Israel despite the deadlock in negotiations, reported Reuters Sunday.  

"When I came here last night I was not as optimistic as I am tonight," Hain told reporters after talks with Foreign Minister Farouq al-Shara and President Hafez al-Assad's son, Bashar al-Assad.  

"Dr. Bashar and the foreign minister emphasized their strong commitment to peace and believe that an agreement is possible... I believe it can be achieved and I look forward to Britain helping to achieve it," he said.  

Peace talks between Syria and Israel are frozen as Damascus wants Israeli to pledge a full withdrawal from the Golan Heights it occupied in 1967, while Israel seeks to deal first with security arrangements and normalization of relations.  

Syria rejected an Israeli offer in March for partial withdrawal, which would have left Israel in control of the northeastern shore of Lake Tiberias or Sea of Galilee, which provides 42 percent of Israel's drinking water.  

"I understand why Syria wants to get all the territory it lost in 1967, that is perfectly understandable and I respect that," said Hain.  

But he added that Israel and Syria had "to find a way through the obstacles which have been erected over the last months and years" and said Britain was well placed to help.  

"We are a close friend of Syria. We have a very good friendship with the Americans and we have a very good friendship with the Israelis. I think our independence and integrity is respected by all parties," he said.  

Hain said it was hard to say whether a breakthrough could be achieved before July, when Israel plans to withdraw from Lebanon, where Syria also has troops.  

Assad's son Bashar, 34, a British-educated eye specialist and army colonel recently visited several Arab countries and France as an envoy to discuss the peace talks with Israel. He also plays a growing role in domestic politics.  

Hain praised his commitment to introduce the Internet and information technology to Syria. 

The British official, aiming to reinforce economic ties with Syria met with minister for economy and foreign trade Mohammed al-Imadi, as well as minister of state for foreign affairs Nasser, said AFP - (Agencies) 

© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)

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