Israel set terms for concluding a peace deal with Syria yesterday, closing ranks with Washington in demanding Damascus distance itself from Iran and stop supporting Palestinian and Lebanese militants.
Coordinated announcements on Wednesday by Israel and Syria that they had begun indirect talks in Turkey, the first confirmation of negotiations between the long-time enemies in eight years, drew a lukewarm response from the US.
Echoing US comments, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Syria needed to “distance itself completely” from “problematic ties” with Iran.
Syria, she said, must also cease “supporting terror — Hezbollah, Hamas,” groups backed by the Islamic Republic.
Many analysts say US hostility to Damascus make a Syria-Israel deal unlikely before US President George W. Bush steps down in January.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the reopened peace track would be long and complex. A key issue will be the future of the Golan Heights.
Meanwhile, Israeli authorities have freed a Syrian detainee serving a seven-year jail sentence on charges of establishing connections with the Hezbollah-led opposition movement and defying Israeli occupation, media reports said yesterday.
Mohamed al-Shamaly, who was captured along with his brother by Israel in December 2003, was released on Tuesday, the Syrian news agency SANA said, its report saying he had been treated brutally.
Al-Shamaly was accused of contacting the Lebanese Hezbollah-led opposition and supplying it with military information.
The report gave no indication why Israel released al-Shamaly before his term was over.
In related news, a suicide bomber driving a truck loaded with 4 tonnes of explosives tried to ram a crucial crossing between Gaza and Israel early yesterday, the militant group said, killing the militant but causing no other casualties.