Turkey ready to resume Israel-Syria mediator role
ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey is ready to resume its role as mediator in suspended indirect peace talks between Israel and Syria, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday, before leaving for a one-day visit to Syria.
But a senior figure in Israel's ruling Likud party questioned Ankara's role as a neutral broker and cast doubt on Damascus' willingness to make peace.
The previous centrist government of Israel held the talks with Syria last year, mediated by predominantly Muslim Turkey, which has good ties with Israel.
Syria froze the contacts to protest Israel's January war in Gaza. Since then, rightist Benjamin Netanyahu has become Israeli prime minister after elections.
"We feel a responsibility ... Requests to resume the process have started to come. We are working on the issue," Erdogan told reporters before leaving for Aleppo, where he is scheduled to meet Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Erdogan, who last week met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ankara, was traveling with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.
But Benny Begin, a Netanyahu confidant, suggested Turkey's fierce criticism of the Israeli Gaza offensive had damaged Ankara's role as a neutral negotiator and said any negotiations for a peace agreement would have to be conducted directly between Syria and Israel without a negotiator.
"If this is what they want and how they continue it will be hard to view them as a means for mediating or for conveying messages between us and Syria," Begin, minister without portfolio, told Israel Radio.
"The Syrians are posing preconditions, i.e. saying what the outcome should be from the outset, which of course is unreasonable."
Syria is seeking the return of the Golan Heights, captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East War. Israel wants a peace deal including diplomatic recognition by Syria and other political concessions.
But Israel has said Syria does not want a peace deal and has demanded Damascus stop insisting on the return of the Golan as a precondition for talks. Assad in May played down prospects of resuming talks, saying Syria did not "have a partner."
(Writing by Ibon Villelabeitia; Editing by Jon Hemming)
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