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Israel invites Syria for talks

Assad pictured with his wife Asma last week during a visit to Turkey.
Assad pictured with his wife Asma last week during a visit to Turkey.

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Unrest, Conflicts and War

JERUSALEM (Reuters) -- Israeli President Moshe Katsav invited Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to visit Jerusalem for "serious" peace talks with Israeli leaders.

Negotiations between the two countries, technically still at war, collapsed in 2000. But Syria has recently urged the United States to help revive the talks.

"I invite the president of Syria to come to Jerusalem and meet with the heads of the state and hold serious negotiations," Katsav said on Israel Radio on Monday.

He issued the invitation a day after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said he was ready for peace talks with Syria, but only if Damascus halted support for "terrorist agents."

Israeli military sources say Syria or its Hizbollah allies have a hand in nearly all Palestinian militant attacks on Israelis and that Syria is determined to scupper any attempt to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict peacefully.

Katsav said that "the intentions, level of seriousness and motives" behind the Syrian president's apparent readiness to talk peace with Israel would be examined through "secret channels" before any meeting in Jerusalem.

It was not immediately clear if Katsav had sent a formal invitation to Assad.

U.S.-sponsored peace talks between Israel and Syria collapsed over the issue of how much of the Golan Heights, seized by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war, could be returned.

Syria wants all of the heights, but Israel sees the territory as strategically important for controlling the Sea of Galilee, its biggest reservoir.

Copyright 2004 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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