UN unhappy with Israel-Syria talks

Tuesday, June 17, 2008 |  by Staff Writer

United Nations Middle East envoy Terje Roed-Larsen, of all people, is urging Israel to rethink its decision to hold indirect peace talks with Syria at this time.

Roed-Larsen has in the past been at the forefront of efforts to bring Israel and Syria to the negotiating table. But in a conversation with Israeli officials last week the UN envoy complained that because of Israel's willingness to talk to the Syrians without precondition, now Europe is courting Damascus even though the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad continues to support regional terrorism and instability in Lebanon.

Said Roed-Larsen: "Syria is receiving legitimacy for free."

The envoy's remarks were transcribed and sent to Israel's Foreign Ministry in a classified telegram, part of which was obtained by Israel's Ha'aretz newspaper.

On Tuesday, Israel opened a second round of indirect talks with Syria via Turkish mediators. Many in Israel believe Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is pursuing the negotiations as a way of propping up his flagging popularity at home. It is also feared that Olmert acquiesced to Syria's demand that Israel agree in principle to withdraw from the Golan Heights as a precondition to peace talks.

In related news, Syrian Expatriate Minister Buthaina Sha'aban told a press conference in India that his government would never accept Israel's peace condition that it cut ties to Hamas and Hizballah.

Said Sha'aban: "The Israeli demand that Syria shake off Hizballah and Hamas as a condition for peace negotiations is like a demand that the US shake off its ties with Israel."

He insisted that Syria's relationship with the terror groups is an internal matter that does not concern Israel, and asserted that neither Hamas nor Hizballah uses violence against Israel.

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