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Syria Ready for Talks With Israel

May 21, 1999

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) _ Syria told Israel’s new prime minister Friday it was ready to resume peace talks and urged him to negotiate simultaneously with Lebanon.

Official Syrian radio urged Israel’s Prime Minister-elect Ehud Barak to deal with the Syrian and Lebanese peace talks as one since ``the two are unified.″

``A commitment from Barak’s government would, no doubt, give Syrian-Israeli talks a fruitful start and would help to find a solution,″ the radio said. Syria has nearly 35,000 soldiers in Lebanon and is the major power broker in the country.

The radio added that Syria was ready to restart peace negotiations with Israel where they left off in early 1996.

At that time, the negotiating team of Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres had reportedly agreed to a full withdrawal from the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau that Israel captured in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War and subsequently annexed.

Then in June 1996, Benjamin Netanyahu, who opposed such a withdrawal, took office as Israel’s prime minister and refused to pick up talks where his predecessor had left off. Negotiations have been on hold since.

Syria is reported to have welcomed Netanyahu’s defeat in this week’s elections.

Barak, who was elected Monday, has pledged to withdraw Israeli troops from Lebanon within a year. Israel has occupied a zone of southern Lebanon since 1985 as a buffer against guerrilla attacks on its northern towns.

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