Rabin turns to Damascus for summit

YITZHAK RABIN, the Israeli Prime Minister, yesterday pleaded with the Syrian President, Hafez al-Assad, to agree to a summit, saying he was prepared to meet the Syrian leader 'in any place on earth'.

It is not the first time Mr Rabin has called for direct Israeli-Syrian talks. Coming on the eve of new peace negotiations in Washington, however, Mr Rabin's latest invitation was clearly intended to show the world that the Israeli government is serious about moving the talks forward, after a six- month gap in the Israeli-Syrian dialogue.

Israel would dearly love Mr Assad to make a Sadat-style grand gesture, by agreeing to a summit meeting with Mr Rabin to pave the way for a peace agreement. Anwar Sadat's visit to Jerusalem in 1977 prepared the ground for the peace treaty with Egypt in 1979. However, Mr Assad has repeatedly made clear he is not a Sadat, and has no intention of making any such gesture. The Israeli- Syrian talks will resume this week at official level, amid the usual caution, and behind closed doors.

Following the meeting between Mr Assad and the US President, Bill Clinton, in Geneva last week, there is hope that the two sides may make progress on defining the degree of withdrawal to be offered by Israel on the Golan Heights, and the type of peace to be offered by Syria in return. However, progress is expected to remain slow.

Bilateral talks also resume this week between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), Jordan and Lebanon.

With renewed interest in Israeli-Syrian relations, attention has briefly shifted from the difficulties facing the Israeli-PLO attempts to implement the Gaza- Jericho accord, signed last September. The deadline for the start of Israel's withdrawal passed more than five weeks ago, and the two sides have still not agreed on what security arrangements should apply at crossing points and around Jewish settlements.

(Photograph omitted)

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