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World - Middle East

Syrian expert: Assad ready to offer Israel peace for land

Golan Settlers
Jewish settlers in the Golan Heights face an uncertain future

RELATED VIDEO
CNN's Bill Delaney reports on the possibility of peace between Syria and Israel
Windows Media 28K 80K
 

June 16, 1999
Web posted at: 8:28 p.m. EDT (0028 GMT)

From Correspondent Bill Delaney

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Early summer on the Golan Heights is cherry-picking time. This year, as much as any time during the past three decades, it is also a season of change.

More and more of the 17,000 Jewish settlers who live on the heights Israel seized from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War believe their days are numbered.

British author Patrick Seale, a well-known expert on Syria who wrote the definitive biography of President Hafez al-Assad, said they're right.

Seale said Assad is ready to offer peace with Israel -- in return for getting back the Golan Heights.

"He has made a strategic choice in favor of peace. He's said it many times. He's prepared his people for it," said Seale. "'Full peace for full withdrawal' is their slogan."

In Israel, Seale's observations are taken very seriously. In recent days, he has met with President Ezer Weizman and Prime Minister-elect Ehud Barak, among others.

In Seale's view, Barak's recent election on a platform of renewed peace efforts has opened up possibilities, particularly his pledge to get Israeli forces out of southern Lebanon within a year.

Seale said that in Assad's view, Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon and the return of the Golan Heights are intertwined.

"The Syrian fear is that Israel will withdraw from Lebanon but stay on the Golan. And President Assad is determined to avoid that," he said.

"There are two red lines, I would say, for the Syrians. One is that land is not negotiable. The other is that the Lebanese and Syrian tracks are inseparably bound together," he said.

Seale recently traveled through the Golan Heights with a top Israeli general, Uri Saguy, who told settlers "that hard decisions may be coming."

"There were tears in his eyes and their eyes as he had this tough discussion with them," Seale said. "That is the price of peace."

And it is a price settlers in the Golan Heights seem willing to pay -- a majority of them voted for Barak in the recent election.



RELATED STORIES:
Israel's new leader wants 'broad government' to heal rifts
May 23, 1999
Lebanon occupation takes center stage in Israel
March 2, 1999
Israel reassesses situation in southern Lebanon
November 27, 1998

RELATED SITES:
Israeli Government
Syria-Net
ArabNet -- Syria
Golan Heights Information Server
Golan Heights - Syria
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