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(photo credit: AP)
The possibility of a resumption of negotiations between Israel and Syria got a significant boost Monday when Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said that French Prime Minister Nicholas Sarkozy had told him that "the Syrians are willing to remove any preconditions, but are insisting on Turkish mediation."
In a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Netanayahu said, "I had told the Syrians that we were ready to renew negotiations without preconditions. They replied that they were willing to negotiate, but not before Israel promised to leave the Golan Heights."
Netanyahu went on to say that a few days later, Sarkozy told him that the Syrians were willing to back down over the Golan Heights issue as a precondition for talks with Israel, but still did not want direct negotiations with Jerusalem.
However, Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Fayssal Mikdad stressed that Israel would not be able to make peace with Syria without relinquishing the Golan Heights, making resistance necessary as long as the "occupation" continues.
According to an Israel Radio report, Mikdad also stated that if talks with Israel were to fail, Damascus would resort to other means to recapture the territory.
Mikdad spoke at a university symposium titled "Syria's Vision on the Future of the Golan and the Peace Process," aimed to explore various topics related to the Golan Heights - including its geopolitical importance and "the falsity of the Israeli Knesset's decision to annex it."
Citing UN resolutions supporting his point, Mikdad asserted that the annexation was an expression of Israel's hostility and attempts to "usurp the rights" of nations in the region.
He added that a solution to the issue of the Golan Heights could only be drafted as part of a comprehensive peace agreement between Israel and its Arab neighbors.
Meanwhile, on the issue of the nationality of the mediator in peace talks between the two countries, Netanyahu said Sarkozy had told him that the Syrians preferred to negotiate via Turkey.
Netanyahu had earlier stated that Israel wanted direct negotiations with Syria, and was ready to have France act as primary mediator.
"I spoke to Sarkozy, and he told me that the Syrian stance is a return to 1967 lines," Netanyahu said. "Sarkozy spoke with the Turkish mediator that the Syrians are suggesting. I [said] that we're interested in direct negotiations, and that if we're talking about mediators, I'd prefer [France]."
Specifically referring to Sunday reports that Iranian authorities had moved to limit Internet access ahead of expected anti-government protests, Netanyahu said, "Iran is stopping the flow of information on the Internetâ€¦ as well as stifling opposition elements."
He said that the Islamic republic was "silencing all sources of information."
While Netanyahu also noted that relations between Israel and the US were improving, specifically in terms of strategic and political coordination, he said that "none of the understandings that were reached with the Bush administration [in return for the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip] have been honored."
Regarding security along Israel's borders, the prime minister said, "The security situation in the areas that we withdrew from [Gaza and southern Lebanon] has not stood the test of time. UN Resolution 1701 [that ended the Second Lebanon war] has crashed. It was supposed to prevent the rearming of Hizbullah, but instead it totally collapsed."
If an agreement should be reached with the Palestinians, he said "future arrangements in Judea and Samaria must be better, must be demilitarized and must prevent rockets from being smuggled in. Israel must directly monitor what goes into the West Bank, which did not happen in Gaza or Lebanon."
Netanyahu also blamed the Palestinians' refusal to accept Israel as a "Jewish state" for the continuation of the conflict between the two.