Assad: Golan will return to Arab hands

In interview for Syrian army's 64th anniversary, president says "peace, occupation are opposites."

US Mideast envoy George Mitchell shakes hands with (photo credit: AP)
US Mideast envoy George Mitchell shakes hands with
(photo credit: AP)

After the Saudi foreign minister flatly rejected the US request that his country make goodwill gestures toward Israel, Syrian President Bashar Assad was quoted repeating his refusal to resume negotiations with Israel unless the country first commits to ceding the Golan Heights.

In an interview published Saturday in a Syrian military magazine's edition celebrating the 64th anniversary of the army, Assad said "peace and occupation are opposites that can never meet."

He repeated the Syrian position that "returning all occupied territories to the 4th of June [1967, prior to the Six Day War] borders is not up for negotiation or discussion."

He insisted that Syria wanted "a fair peace, but there is a great difference between an honest invitation to lay the foundations for peace according to the legitimate international resolutions, and accepting Israel's demands," which, he said, "contradict the principles of peace.

"The Syrian Golan will yet return to Arab hands," Assad promised. He made similar statements in a speech Friday to mark Army Day.

The interview with Assad was published on the same day that American sanctions against the country were extended by a year. The US decision came despite recent efforts by Washington to thaw relations with Damascus, which were frozen by the Bush administration for Syria's role in destabilizing Lebanon.

Hizbullah on Saturday blasted US President Barack Obama for the decision to extend the sanctions.

The group called the decision "a callous intervention" in Lebanese affairs and an "aggressive act of imperialist arrogance."