Both Israel and Syria have vehemently denied reports that the two countries have reached a political understanding on the path to a peace agreement reportedly forged after two years of secret meetings between Israeli and Syrian officials.
According to the reported agreement, first revealed by Haaretz newspaper on Tuesday morning, Israel will agree to withdraw from the Golan Heights to the lines of June 4, 1967. An agreement on the timetable for the withdrawal, however, was not reached, as Syria reportedly wanted five years for the withdrawal, while Israel was looking at 15-year period.
The agreement also reportedly calls for the demilitarization of the entire Golan Heights and turning it into a joint Israeli-Syrian park which will serve citizens of both countries. Israel will also retain control of all existing water sources including the Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee. According to the agreement, the Syrians would stop supporting Hizballah and Hamas, and would distance themselves from Iran.
Sources within the prime minister’s office have denied such contact and said they were unaware of any understanding reached between Israel and Syria. An official statement released by the Syrian Foreign Ministry in Damascus also denied the reported contacts and said that such an agreement “never happened,” and the report was “a complete lie.”
Dov Weisglass, director general of the prime minister’s office during the tenure of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, also denied any official contacts and said that Sharon did not know of or approve any such negotiations.
Parliament member Silvan Shalom (Likud), who served as foreign minister during the reported contacts, also denied that any such agreement was negotiated or reached. According to Shalom, brief contact was made between Israeli and Syrian officials only on two occasions: Once in Jordan with the brother and sister of President Bashar Assad, and once in an undisclosed location. Shalom said the first meeting did not lead anywhere because it was leaked to the media and the second discussion only surrounded the return of the remains of Israeli spy Eli Cohen who was caught and hung in Damascus in 1965.