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Efforts under way for Israel-Syria talks: Assad

DAMASCUS (Reuters) - Mediators are working to relaunch peace talks between Syria and Israel, President Bashar al-Assad said on Sunday.

“There are efforts being made in this direction and they are not new. The Israeli side knows full well what Syria would or would not accept,” Assad was quoted as telling a meeting of the ruling Baath Party’s command.

Assad did not identify the mediators but diplomats in the Syrian capital said Turkey had been relaying messages between Damascus and Israel.

Negotiations between the two countries collapsed in 2000 over the scope of a proposed Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, seized by Israel in 1967.

International attempts to persuade Syria and Israel to resume talks foundered with the two sides attaching conditions to a return to the negotiating table.

Syria wants Israel to commit to a full withdrawal from the Golan Heights and prefers the United States, Israel’s chief ally, to oversee the talks, while Israel wants Syria’s ties with Lebanon’s Hezbollah and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas to be on the agenda.

“Syria rejects secret talks with Israel, Anything we do in this regard will be in front of Syrian public opinion. The standard for accepting negotiations is their seriousness and conformity to United Nations resolutions,” Assad said, according to the state news agency.

An Israeli minister said last month that the Jewish state was trying to revive peace talks with Syria and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert hinted at behind-the-scenes talks.

In 2006, Swiss diplomats helped mediate in unofficial talks between the Israelis and Syrians and draw up a plan focusing on an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights.

Tension between Syria and Israel has risen since, with Israel launching a raid on a Syrian military facility last year that prompted no retaliation from Syria.

editing by Andrew Dobbie