Israeli and Syrian officers in talks

Officials in Jerusalem yesterday confirmed the first high-level military contacts between Israel and Syria for 45 years after the two foes resumed peace talks under American auspices in Washington. At the same time tension was rising in Lebanon, where two Israeli soldiers were killed in a clash with Islamic guerrillas.

The fundamentalist group Hizbollah - a major loser in the event of a peace treaty - has warned of "special operations" in revenge for a car bombing in Beirut on Wednesday which killed at least three people.

"God willing, we will take vengeance on the Zionist gangs," vowed Haj Hussein Khalil, chairman of the group's political bureau, who blamed Israel for the attack.

One of the dead was named by Hizbollah as Fuad Mugniyeh, a "security official" in the militia and brother of Imad Mugniyeh, the prime suspect in Hizbollah's kidnappings of westerners in the Eighties. Imad Mugniyeh is wanted by the United States and is detested by the Syrian government. He has taken refuge in Tehran.

The renewed diplomatic movement between Israel and Syria was viewed by some analysts in Beirut as almost certainly linked to intensified pressure on Hizbollah, whose fighters have exacted a steady toll of Israeli casualties in occupied southern Lebanon.

Hizbollah's radio station in Ba'albek, the "Voice of the Oppressed," quoted the movement's spiritual head, Sheikh Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, as saying "this crime was designed to create confusion on the domestic front".

Thursday's announcement by the official Syrian news agency that the ambassadors of Syria and Israel were to meet in Washington was bad news for militant groups opposed to the American-brokered peace negotiations.

It showed that President Hafez al-Assad was ready after a long pause to give public endorsement to the process in the face of sceptical Arab opinion. Diplomats believe the two sides have made more progress during informal discussions than official pronouncements suggest. A peace treaty between Israel and Syria would very likely be followed by another accord with Lebanon.

The Israeli Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres, yesterday complained that the Syrian-Israeli talks were "too slow and too low" because President Assad was dragging his feet and keeping talks at a junior level.

The two ambassadors, Itamar Rabinovich and Walid Muallem, were trying to narrow differences over how far Israeli troops would pull back on the occupied Golan Heights, and the timetable.

The presence of senior military officers marked a significant step forward in the discussions. It was the first time senior Israeli and Syrian officers had met officially since the ceasefire accord of 20 July 1949 signed on the Greek island of Rhodes. The countries have remained in a state of war since.

Israel's army radio said that the Chief of Staff, Lieutenant- General Ehud Barak, was present as was General Danny Yatom, military adviser to the Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin.

The names of the Syrian officers attending were not released although Brigadier- General Ghazi Kenaan, a close confidant of President Assad, is the member of the Syrian high command with most influence over policy in Lebanon.

Some 35,000 Syrian troops are in Lebanon to underwrite Syria's political role and to support the pro-Syrian government in Beirut.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
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

Recruitment Genius: Service and Installation Engineer

£22000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: SEO / Outreach Executive

£20000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is a global marketin...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Estimator

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Negotiator - OTE £24,000

£22000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An enthusiastic individual is r...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?