Albert Aji, Associated Press
Publication Date: 
Sun, 2008-05-25 03:00

DAMASCUS, 25 May 2008 — Syria rejected Israel’s demand that Damascus cut its ties with Iran and Hamas as a condition for a peace agreement, a state newspaper said yesterday.

The announcement comes even as Syrian ally Hamas, a sworn foe of the Jewish state, cast doubt on the Israeli government’s ability to even deliver on a peace agreement due to the weakness of its prime minister.

The remarks underline the difficulties facing the negotiations between Israel and Syria, restarted Wednesday after an eight-year hiatus. Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni had said on Thursday Syria would have to stop supporting Hamas and Hezbollah and cut ties with Iran if any agreement were to happen.

Yesterday’s editorial in Tishrin, which reflects official policy, said that Israel could not lay down conditions ahead of negotiations.

“Damascus does not want preconditions, that would put the cart before the horse ... It does not bargain over its relations with other countries and people,” the editorial stated.

“It goes without saying that impossible conditions cannot facilitate the work of negotiators,” added the editorial that likened it to “putting stakes in the wheels” of the peace process.

As if to underline Israel’s concerns, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal was in Tehran yesterday, meeting with Iranian officials. While he was careful not to criticize the decision of Syria to restart negotiations, he cast doubt on their chances for success.

“(Israel) is maneuvering and playing with all the (negotiating) tracks — it’s a well-known game and besides, Olmert’s weakness will not allow him to take this step,” Meshaal said.

An investigation into Olmert over corruption allegations have raised doubts about his ability to conclude a peace deal with the Palestinians by a year-end target or pursue recently confirmed peace talks with Syria.

Outspoken Likud member Tzachi Hanegbi yesterday called for an early election in Israel to vote on any peace deal negotiated between Syria and Israel. Hanegbi told The Associated Press in a telephone interview that his party did not run on a platform of peace with Syria, and said elections would show whether Israelis really wanted a deal or not.

Hanegbi also underlined the absolute necessity of Syria cutting ties with Hamas and Hezbollah and Iran.

“It’s understood that Syria wants to have the Golan Heights, and Israel wants a total (Syrian) disassociation from Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran. It’s a red line, to ensure our security...and to prevent a surprise attack.”

Israel captured the plateau in the 1967 Middle East war, and many Israelis see it as a valuable buffer against attack. Today the Golan Heights are home to 18,000 Israelis who run thriving industries. Olmert himself vacationed there last month.

According to the poll, only 19 percent of Israelis are willing to cede the entire Golan Heights, down from 32 percent a month ago.

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