Syrians seek seat at Mideast peace table
As Damascus works towards regaining the Golan Heights, Israelis prepare for internal political battles over the contested border area.
Syria, branded by the US as a supporter of terrorism and accused of adding to Iraq's strife, hopes to participate in an Arab-Israeli peace conference that President George Bush wants to sponsor before the end of the year. If Syria participates in peace talks, it plans to push its desire to regain the Golan Heights – seized by Israel in the 1967 war – which has sparked serious debates among Israeli officials.Skip to next paragraph
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As the prospect of peace talks loom, Syria is also warning that an "arms race" could be ignited by the Bush administration's plan to beef up its military support to Sunni Muslim-ruled Gulf States, Egypt and Israel, Reuters reports.
"Syria will support and participate in any international conference for peace. The objectives, participants and grounds for such an initiative must be made clear," [Syrian Foreign Minister Walid] al-Moualem said after meeting Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos in the Syrian capital.
"Bush has cast himself as a peace maker. He has to gain the trust of all parties and not start a dangerous arms race in the region," Moualem said.
The Jerusalem Post, a conservative Israeli newspaper, reports that Syria has been seeking to engage Israel directly over the Golan Heights, though its deputy foreign minister told Al Jazeera that its efforts are being consistently rebuked, saying: "All of Syria's peace efforts have thus far been snubbed by Israel."
That comment comes at a time of growing tension between the two states, with rumors in both countries of a possible military showdown some time soon if peace efforts don't move forward. Israel's influential Yediot Ahronot paper, which publishes in Hebrew, cites an unnamed source as saying Syria has directly threatened Israel with a "war of attrition" if it doesn't come to the table.
The regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad has reportedly messaged Jerusalem that if it continues to refuse to enter into negotiations leading to the surrender of the Golan Heights, Damascus will launch a war of attrition against the Jewish state.
Israel's Yediot Ahronot learned of the secret message, which was relayed earlier this week, and reported that it was accompanied by confirmation that Syria has opened the portion of the Golan that it still controls to renewed habitation.
Though the Bush administration has not said if Syria will be welcome at the Arab-Israeli peace conference, it seems unlikely given US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's recent comments that the $20 billion the US is giving to the Gulf States, the $30 billion it's giving to Israel and the $13 billion it's giving to Egypt is designed to counter the influence of Syria and its ally Iran, reports Agence France-Presse.
The US has also stepped up its anti-Syrian rhetoric of late, The New York Times reports.
President Bush said Thursday that the United States would freeze the property and assets of anyone trying to undermine Lebanon's democratically elected government — a move intended as a sharp warning to Syria and its ally Hezbollah.
The announcement, in an executive order and an accompanying letter to the US Congress, reflects heightened concern in Washington that Syria is trying to reassert control over Lebanon. It comes a little more than a month after the administration announced that it was enacting a travel ban, barring "those who have contributed to the breakdown of the rule of law in Lebanon," possibly including leading Syrian intelligence officials, from entering the United States.
Taken together, the steps are an effort to ratchet up pressure on Syria at a time when the administration contends that it is helping to fuel the insurgency in Iraq, as well as creating instability in Lebanon. Mr. Bush's order deems interference in Lebanon's government to be an "extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States," and declares it a "national emergency."