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Syria to press for cease-fire in Mideast fighting

Syria is willing to engage in dialogue with the United States to solve the confrontation between Hezbollah and Israel, but will also join the conflict if Israeli troops near the Syrian border, government officials said on Sunday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Syria, one of Hezbollah’s main backers, said Sunday it will press for a cease-fire to end the fighting between Israel and the Islamic militant group but only in the framework of a broader Middle East peace initiative.

Damascus warned, however, that it will not stand by if the Israelis step up their offensive in Lebanon.

“Syria and Spain are working to achieve a cease-fire, a prisoners’ swap and to start a peace process as one package,” Syrian Information Minister Mohsen Bilal told the Spanish daily newspaper ABC during an interview in Madrid.

Similar comments were made to other media outlets by Deputy Foreign Minister Fayssal Mekdad.

But U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton said Syria “doesn’t need dialogue to know what they need to do. They need to lean on Hezbollah to get them to release the two captured Israeli soldiers and stop the launch of rockets against innocent Israeli civilians.”

“Syria, along with Iran, is really part of the problem because of their longtime support for Hezbollah and other armed groups inside Lebanon,” Bolton told “Fox News Sunday.” “So I don’t know what that adds necessarily, although I suppose it’s better than nothing.”

Bilal said Damascus would cooperate only within the framework of a broader Middle East peace initiative that would include a return of the Golan Heights, captured by Israel in 1967. Israel is not likely to agree to such a deal.

“Syria is working on achieving real, comprehensive, fair peace based on the withdrawal from all the occupied territories, including the Golan,” Bilal said.

Damascus' first bid for global role
It was unlikely that Israel would agree to such a deal, but the remarks were the first indication of Syria’s willingness to be involved in international efforts to defuse the Lebanese crisis.

The interview also was carried by the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency, a tacit confirmation of the remarks.

“If Israel invades Lebanon and enters it by land, then it will be only about 12 miles from Damascus, then we will not stand with our hands tied,” Bilal said.

Bilal gave the interview in Madrid after meeting with Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos, according to the Syrian agency report. It did not say when they met.

Syria and Iran are considered the major backers of the militant Hezbollah, which captured two Israeli soldiers July 12, sparking the latest round of Mideast violence.