Israel Willing to Return Golan Heights to Syria?

Report: Israel willing to give up Golan Heights for peace with Syria.

ByABC News
April 23, 2008, 8:53 AM

JERUSALEM April 23, 2008 — -- Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has told Syrian President Bashar Assad that Israel is willing to give up all of the Golan Heights for peace with Syria.

That's according to a government-backed Syrian News agency report from Damascus published this morning.

The agency says Olmert passed this message to Assad through Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

For some time, reports have been circulating that both Syria and Israel have been exchanging messages through Turkish mediation.

Both Assad and Olmert have now publicly admitted to indirect communications.

The Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem refused to confirm or deny today's report.

Spokesman Mark Regev told ABC News, "We don't comment on media reports, but Israel has clearly stated we want peace with Syria. The prime minister has made this very clear in recent interviews. We understand Syria's expectations. The Syrians understand our expectations."

On Sunday Assad told a meeting of his Baath Party in Damascus that "friends are making efforts to renew negotiations between Israel and Syria."

Israel occupied the Golan Heights during fighting in the Six Day War in 1967.

The Syrian regime of Hafez al Assad, the current president's father, came close to negotiating a return of the territory from the Israeli government of Ehud Barak in 2000 under a process mediated by President Clinton. This process collapsed when the two sides failed to agree on the final border between the two countries.

Israel is widely thought to be demanding a significant change in Syria's strategic and diplomatic positions before a deal can be done on the land. Land has long been thought of as a strategic asset.

Israel is also known to be unhappy with Syria's cosy relationship with Iran and North Korea and condemns its support for Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian territories.

For many Israelis full peace with Syria should mean an end to all those relationships.