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Syria said to drop conditions on peace talks with Israel

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad shown in recent file photo
Syrian President Bashar Assad is shown in this Oct. 9, 2004 file photo. Khaled Al-hariri / Reuters file
/ Source: The Associated Press

Syrian President Bashar Assad is ready to resume peace talks with Israel “without conditions,” a top U.N. envoy said Wednesday. It was not immediately clear if Damascus had dropped its demand that talks resume from the point where they broke off four years ago.

Syrian peace negotiations with Israel collapsed in 2000 when Israel offered to withdraw from most of Syria’s Golan Heights, a strategic plateau that Israel captured during the 1967 Mideast War and later annexed.

“President Assad has reiterated to me today that he has an outstretched hand to his Israeli counterparts and that he is willing to go to the table without conditions,” the U.N. Mideast envoy Terje Roed-Larsen, said at a news conference following talks with the Syrian president and his foreign minister, Farouk al-Sharaa.

Since taking office in July 2000 following the death of his father, Assad has said Syria is ready to resume peace talks with Israel, but he has insisted they begin where they left off in 2000.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has previously rebuffed Assad’s offers to resume talks, saying Syria must first expel militant Palestinian groups based in Damascus and rein in Hezbollah guerrillas along the Lebanon-Israel border.

Larsen said of Assad’s remarks in their meeting “very encouraging because the United Nations does not believe that there will be a lasting peace unless there is a comprehensive peace.”

“We have to address all the tracks of the Middle East peace process,” he said.

Syria’s official news agency, SANA, did not report any comments on the matter by Assad, but said his talks with Roed-Larsen centered on the Middle East peace process and the need to implement international resolutions to achieve regional peace and stability.