June 18, 2009 / 6:43 PM / 10 years ago

Turkey says willing to resume Israel-Syria talks

Israeli tanks manoeuvre during a military drill near Ein Zivan in the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau which Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war, August 14, 2008. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Turkey said on Thursday it was willing to resume mediating suspended indirect peace talks between Israel and Syria, although both sides have expressed pessimism about the chances of that happening.

The previous centrist government of Israel held the talks with Syria last year, but Syria froze the contacts to protest Israel’s January war in Gaza. Since then, rightist Benjamin Netanyahu has become Israeli prime minister after elections.

“When the two parties are ready we can start and Turkey is ready to contribute to this process, which is very important for regional stability,” Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davatoglu told reporters at the United Nations.

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 Syrian President Bashar al-Assad does not want a peace deal and has demanded Damascus stop insisting on the return of the Golan as a precondition for talks. Assad last month also played down prospects of resuming talks, saying Syria did not “have a partner.”

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Israel’s Channel 10 television that talks with Syria thus far had been delayed from getting back on track by “Syria’s maneuvering.”

“The demand that we should agree ahead of time to return to the 1967 borders isn’t logical,” added Lieberman, who is due to visit the United Nations on Friday for talks with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Davatoglu was at U.N. headquarters to chair a meeting of the Security Council — of which Turkey is currently president — on Iraq.

Reporting by Patrick Worsnip at the United Nations and Allyn Fisher-Ilan in Jerusalem; editing by Todd Eastham

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