Mid-East talks 'back on track': Warren Christopher heads for Damascus again as he establishes dialogue between the Syrian and Israeli leaders

THE US Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, is to visit Damascus today for the second time during his current Middle East tour, raising hopes that his 'shuttling' may have established a constructive dialogue between President Hafez al-Assad, the Syrian President, and Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli Prime Minister. A State Department spokesman, Mike McCurry, said yesterday that Mr Christopher was 'beginning to help Assad and Rabin exchange views'.

The return trip to Damascus, after lengthy talks in Jerusalem with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, as well as talks in Amman, Cairo and Beirut, is the most positive sign yet to emerge from America's latest round of Middle East diplomacy, aimed at bringing all sides back to the negotiating table after Israel's ferocious bombardment of Lebanon last week.

Mr Rabin said yesterday that Mr Christopher had brought 'certain good news' with him after his first round of talks with Mr Assad. But he did not specify what this was, adding: 'It's only the beginning. We still have a long way to go.' Mr Christopher said he had brought 'significant' - but not necessarily new - information back to Israel from Damascus. He said that the peace process 'has been salvaged and is back on track'.

The renewed emphasis on the Syrian side of the peace talks was expected after the US-brokered ceasefire ended Israel's onslaught on Lebanon, which was aimed at curbing the Islamic militants of Hizbollah. Syria's influence over Hizbollah is believed to have helped achieve a ceasefire. Mr Christopher's current discussions with Mr Assad centre on the situation in south Lebanon, and how a resolution there can be linked to a deal over the future of the Golan Heights, which Syria says should be returned by Israel in its entirety.

Demonstrating the fragility of the ceasefire, guerrillas fired four Katyusha rockets at Israel's 'security zone' in south Lebanon yesterday for the first time since the ending of the bombardment. The ceasefire agreement on Saturday included 'understandings' that Hizbollah guerrillas would not fire rockets at northern Israel but it did not cover attacks on the 'security zone'.

But in another positive development for the peace talks yesterday, state-run Israel Radio said that an Israeli cabinet minister, Yossi Sarid, a member of the left-wing Meretz party, which is part of the Israeli coalition, had met a senior official of the Palestine Liberation Organisation for secret talks in Cairo, with the approval of Mr Rabin.

Mr Rabin's office neither confirmed nor denied the report. Such a meeting would constitute the most significant step yet taken by the Israeli government towards direct talks with the PLO. Although the PLO decides the policy of the Palestinian peace team it is formally barred from the negotiating table because official Israeli policy still bans government contacts with the organisation. Palestinian leaders have been pressing for direct talks, which they say would speed up progress in the peace talks.

The official who met Mr Sarid, Nabil Shaath, a senior adviser to Yasser Arafat, the PLO chairman, did not, however, have any progress to report. He said that a US-proposed 'statement of principles' - drawn up with a large measure of Israeli agreement and intended to end the logjam in the Palestinian talks - was to be returned by the Palestinians to Mr Christopher '80 per cent rewritten'.

Hanan Ashrawi, the Palestinian spokeswoman, said last night that if the talks were to make real progress Israel must start to talk directly with its 'real interlocutors' - the PLO.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Interactive / Mobile Developer

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - Midweight

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Front End Developer

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: Front End Developer - Midweight / Senior

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Day In a Page

Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks