Israel Reportedly Offers Syria Peace Deal

Israeli Warplanes over flags of Syria and Israel with Syrian President Bashar Assad
Written by CBS News reporter George Baghdadi in Damascus

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has told Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was ready to fully withdraw from the occupied Golan in return for peace with Syria as Syrian political analysts on Wednesday questioned the credibility of the Israeli offer.

The Damascus-based al-Watan (The Nation), a political independent daily, said Wednesday the phone call took place on Tuesday morning, but gave no other details of the Israeli offer, or how much did the supposed Turkish mediation go between Syria and Israel to revive the peace negotiations, deadlocked in practice since 2000.

A similar statement on the issue was also published on Wednesday in "Cham Press," an independent daily news electronic bulletin.

On Tuesday, the Damascus-based Addounia (The World) TV station said first its sources learned that Mr. Erdogan told Syria of Olmert's readiness to totally pull out of the Golan heights, the strategic plateau occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war, in return for peace with Syria.

So far, no official Syrian statement on the credibility of the item was issued.

Professor Ibrahim Darraji of the International Law at Damascus University and political analyst told CBS News that "we cannot be sure of the credibility of this latest Israeli offer of Olmert as Israel used in many cases to leak such news which later proved to be false…or they withdrew their offer."

Professor Darraji accused Israel of "seeking to sow divisions and disunity among the Arabs….and urge the Palestinians to make more concessions and create the illusions that the Palestinians have to work quickly before Israel gives priority to the Syrian-Israeli rack in any future revived peace talks."

Erdogan is due in Damascus on Saturday to attend the meetings of the joint economic council between Turkey and Syria. He is expected to meet President Assad as part of his visit to the country.

The Syrian president told a meeting of the Central Committee of the ruling al-Baath party that his country rejects to hold any secret peace negotiations with Israel. Without naming any country or a party, he hinted to "efforts" being exerted by other to revive the stalled peace negotiations.

Professor Darraji said "I doubt that Israel is sincere in this supposed peace offer… the way to peace is fully obvious and well-known for Syria and the others: It's the total Israeli withdrawal until the June 4th 1967 border lines and the implementation of the international legitimacy resolutions."

"The Arab peace initiative (adopted by the Arab Beirut summit 2002) stresses that establishing comprehensive peace requires full Israeli withdrawal from all the lands occupied in 1967. I think the latest offer is only an attempt to convince the Israeli public opinion that there is something underway towards peace…but in fact the matter is mere false and insincere statements."

Syrian freelance journalist and political analyst Razzouk al-Ghawia also echoed similar doubts on Israel's seriousness in its offer. "Up till now Israel hasn't proven credibility in its so-called peace offers and overtures," he said in an interview with CBS News.

"If Israel is really serious about its peace offers, it should have announced in public its readiness to withdraw from all of the occupied Arab lands…and recognition of the Arab legitimate rights."

He added that "Syria has always expressed readiness to discuss peace in the region provided there are objective conditions for it. Syria is committed to a set of firm stances, including the Israeli full withdrawal to the June 4th 1967 border lines, the land-for-peace and the Arab peace initiative."

Israeli daily newspaper Jerusalem Post on Wednesday quoted a Syrian Web site as reporting that Syrian diplomats told it Olmert has agreed to entirely withdraw from the Golan Heights in return for peace. It added the Syrian Web site is defined as "independent" but works under Syrian tutelage.

Syria insists that the returning of the Golan is the main pillar for any peace agreement with Jewish state as part of "land-for-peace" formula upon which Damascus agreed to take part in Madrid Conference in 1991.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter said on Monday that Syrian President Assad was eager to revive the deadlocked peace negotiations with Israel over the Golan. He said he believed that the greatest part of differences between Syria and Israel had been solved in the past.

Carter, who held talks with President Assad and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak last week, said Assad told him that the talks must not be secret but public.