December 23, 2009 / 10:46 PM / in 10 years

Israel not interested in peace: Syria's Assad

DAMASCUS (Reuters) - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said on Wednesday that peace talks with Israel had been stalled because Israel was not interested in achieving peace.

Israel’s demand for negotiations without conditions meant that it wanted to bring down the peace process, Assad said after talks with Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan in Damascus.

“We discussed today the ways to bring the peace process out of the deadlock that it has reached ... because of the absence of a serious Israeli partner who aims to achieve peace,” he told a joint news conference with Erdogan.

“When Israel says it wants negotiations without conditions it means it wants negotiations with no foundation. This is like having a building with no foundation, then it’s very easy to be brought down and they want to bring down the peace process,” he said.

Peace talks between Israel and Syria faltered in 2000 over Damascus’s demand for a full Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau Israel captured in the 1967 war and later annexed.

Turkey, NATO’s only Muslim member, last year facilitated contacts that focused on Syrian demands for a full withdrawal from the Golan Heights, and Israel’s accusations that Damascus was arming militants in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.

Those contacts failed to produce formal negotiations, and Turkey’s repeated offers to re-open the peace track have not resulted in further talks.

Under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel has ruled out resuming Turkish-mediated talks with Syria, insisting that any new contacts must be direct.

Relations between Turkey and Israel turned sour after Israel launched a three-week incursion into the Gaza Strip last December and Erdogan said Israel no longer trusted Turkey to mediate peace talks with Syria.

On Wednesday, Erdogan reiterated that Turkey remained committed to mediating peace talks.

“If the responsibilities fall on Turkey (to mediate between Syria and Israel), we are ready,” Erdogan told the news conference, speaking through an Arabic interpreter.

Writing by Mariam Karouny in Beirut, editing by Tim Pearce

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