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Words fail Israel and Syria over Golan Heights

SYRIA warned yesterday that the latest round of Middle East peace talks are likely to end without further progress after it rejected Israel's attempt to find a new form of words to break the deadlock over the occupied Golan Heights.

Israel had hoped to be able to hammer out a joint statement of principles with Syria by the time the talks end tomorrow. But Syria's chief negotiator, Mouwafak al-Allaf, said Israel tried to propose phrasing the document to say it was aware of certain provisions in UN Resolution 242, which calls for Israel to withdraw from occupied Arab territory in return for peace.

'All that we heard today is a statement which says that the Israelis are aware, for instance, of certain words in the Resolution 242, which means nothing,' said Mr Allaf. 'We are not here to remind each other what is written in 242. We are here to try to implement 242,' he said. 'It seems that so far there is no intention or no authority to enter into something serious, something substantive and I'm afraid we maybe cannot expect a change in the coming two days,' Mr Allaf said.

The Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, conceded said yesterday that Israel could not reach peace with Syria without giving back some conquered land and raising the level of current negotiations, but he ruled out a full withdrawal from the Golan Heights. 'I don't want the precedent which was set in peace negotiations with Egypt, by which everything was returned, to be repeated in the Golan Heights,' he said.

Syrian-Israeli negotiations hit a wall last week when Israel refused to discuss withdrawal from the strategic Golan Heights before Syria spelled out a commitment to full peace with the Jewish state. Syria wants Israel to commit itself to total withdrawal. Israel says it wants Syria to promise a peace that includes the signing of a formal treaty, the establishment of diplomatic relations and open borders. Both sides want the other to move first.

But Mr Allaf vowed to continue the talks until their scheduled conclusion and said Syria was ready to accept Israel's proposal to reconvene in Washington on 21 October after the Jewish holy days. Israel's chief negotiator, Itamar Rabinovich, said Mr Allaf's pessimism could be a negotiating tactic to try to extract concessions.

'In the exchanges between the Syrians and us concerning the nature of peace on the one hand and the territorial dimension linked to it organically on the other, we found some points of interest, potentially promising,' he said.

Israel's separate talks with Palestinians aimed at establishing self-rule for nearly two million inhabitants of the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip also made no progress. But Lebanon offered Israel a goodwill gesture, informing the Israelis that an airman who was shot down and captured in south Lebanon in 1986 was still alive.