All the optimism generated by Wednesday's talks, when both sides said they made progress, dissolved abruptly when Syria's chief negotiator, Mouwafak al-Allaf, stalked out of the State Department after a shorter-than-expected session yesterday. He angrily told reporters that progress had ground to a halt as soon as his delegation raised its demand for a full Israeli withdrawal from the Golan, the strategic plateau captured by Israel in 1967.
Mr Allaf said the Israeli delegation was not ready to negotiate withdrawal. 'All that they are ready to talk about is the Israeli demands and preconditions. So we consider it is a very serious situation. Now the peace process is, I think, subjected to the threat of deadlock and of impasse.'
Later, in separate news conferences, the sides continued to trade heated accusations. Mr Allaf said peace was impossible as long as Israel rejected the principle of 'land for peace' as embodied in United Nations Resolution 242, which forms the basis for the talks.
The Israeli negotiator, Itamar Rabinovich, accused the Syrians of trying to 'stage a mini-crisis' by insisting on its own interpretation of Resolution 242. He said Israel would not panic, but neither would it give in to ultimatums.
Syria is demanding that Israel return every inch of the Golan Heights. But in Israel, the Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, reiterated there could be no talk of returning them until Syria said what it meant by peace. Mr Rabin said on Wednesday his delegation had no authority to discuss withdrawal before Syria committed itself to full peace, including diplomatic relations and open borders.
After receiving new instructions from Mr Rabin, the Israeli delegation apparently stiffened its negotiating stance yesterday.
JERUSALEM - The Chinese Foreign Minister, Qian Qichen, yesterday told Mr Rabin that Peking would not sell weapons to countries in the Middle East, Mr Rabin's office announced.