Israel and Syria agree to renew land negotiations

ISRAEL AND Syria are to resume their long-stalled peace talks in Washington next week in the hope of paving the way for a comprehensive Middle East peace settlement in coming months. The breakthrough was made by Bill Clinton yesterday at the start of a press conference at the US State Department, and confirmed immediately by the two countries concerned.

President Clinton said that the negotiations would resume from the point where they left off more than three years ago. But he did not disclose whether Israel had consented to hand back the Golan Heights, the disputed territory whose return Syria has made a condition of any agreement.

He also warned: "Israelis and Syrians still need to make courageous decisions to reach a just and lasting peace, but today's step is a significant breakthrough, for it will allow them to deal with each other face to face."

The Israeli ambassador in Washington welcomed the imminent resumption of talks, but regretted that the Syrian leader, Hafez al-Assad, would not be taking part. Syria will be represented by its foreign minister, Farouk al-Shara. Two rounds of talks are planned; the first in Washington and the second at an as yet undecided venue in the Middle East.

Talks between Israel and Syria came to an abrupt end in 1996, after a wave of suicide bombings by the Islamic militant group Hamas, and the election of Benjamin Netanyahu as Israeli premier. But five months ago there was a flurry of renewed optimism, partly because of the election of Ehud Barak, which led to reports that indirect contacts were underway again.

The biggest issue is the return to Syria of the Golan Heights, which were seized by Israel in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, and which - to worldwide condemnation - were, in effect, annexed by the Knesset.

Syria's President was adamant that before the collapse of talks in 1996, Israel's then prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, had agreed to hand back all of the Golan Heights.

Before returning to the table, the Syrians wanted the Barak administration to stick by this commitment. But the Israelis said the offer had been hypothetical, and accused President Assad of trying to impose unreasonable conditions before talks had even resumed.

Last night it was unclear whether this conflict was resolved during the break-through visit to Damascus and Israel this week by Madeleine Albright, the US Secretary of State, which presaged the resumed talks. An aide to Mr Barak said that there were "no pre-conditions".

Welcoming the announcement, a statement from Syria reported that Mr Clinton had said talks would resume "from the point where they left off." The odds are that it is still unsolved. Add to this several other mighty issues, such as an Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon and Syria's desire to acquire a strip of land down to the banks of the Sea of Galilee, and it becomes clear that the new talks will be tough going.

For Mr Barak, in particular, it is a path strewn with domestic perils; he has emphasised that peace with Syria will mean "painful concessions".

Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian President, far from a close friend of President Assad's,welcomed the news despite speculation that Mr Clinton's keenness to win a trophy in the Middle East before leaving office will mean the Israel-Syria peace track takes precedence over that of the Palestinians.

Travel
travel
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
Sport
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Travel
travel
News
Robyn Lawley
people
News
people
News
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmThe film is surprisingly witty, but could do with taking itself more seriously, says Geoffrey Macnab
News
people
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
Life and Style
lifeDon't get caught up on climaxing
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

MS Dynamics NAV Developer

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: MS Dynamics NAV...

Technical / Engineering Manager - West Yorkshire - £50k+

£45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: The company ...

MS Dynamics NAV Developer

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: **MS Dynamics N...

Data Analytics Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client who are a leading organisation...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star