Syria may be signaling that it wants to resume peace talks with Israel, an Israeli cabinet minister was quoted by the Associated Press as saying Friday, after Prime Minister Ehud Barak made an overture to Damascus.
The agency quoted Communications Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer as saying that Syria is "suddenly" praising Israel after it pulled its army out of Lebanon. The Iraqi-born Ben-Eliezer said there are nuances in Syrian statements in Arabic that might indicate a new attitude.
At a Lisbon news conference Thursday with President Clinton, Barak said "we respect the dignity of Syria and its sovereignty," adding that Israel plans to solve conflicts with its neighbors according to UN Security Council resolutions.
After meeting Thursday with Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Shara, UN special envoy Terje Roed-Larsen said Syria would accept UN certification that Israel has fully withdrawn from Lebanon.
An Israeli official said Barak feels the Lebanon withdrawal might open the door slightly, but he is not optimistic about the prospects of resuming negotiations.
Peace talks broke down in January after two rounds. Syria demanded that Israel return all of the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau Israel occupied during the 1967 Mideast war. Israel agreed in principle, but rejected a Syrian demand for control of part of the shore of the Sea of Galilee.
Syria called Barak's gesture "meaningless" unless Israel agrees to pull back to the pre-war line. In an editorial Friday, the government newspaper Al-Thawra also charged that Israel was responsible for the stalemate in the talks.
Foreign Minister David Levy also noted the possibility of resuming talks with Syria, added the AP. After Israel's pullout from Lebanon, he said, "Syria will not be interested in international isolation and in taking unnecessary and fateful risks." A ministry statement said he warned Syria not to back guerrilla attacks on Israel from Lebanon.
Ben-Eliezer said that al-Shara, who raised hackles by refusing to shake Barak's hand during the Washington talks, praised Israel after it ended its 18-year occupation of south Lebanon last week. "Suddenly we are hearing sounds that we never heard from there before," the agency quoted him as saying – Albawaba.com
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