U.S. envoy explores Israel-Syria talks: report
A senior adviser to U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell has begun a visit to Israel, raising speculation on Monday that Washington would try to revive Israeli-Syrian peace talks, Reuters reported.
A U.S. diplomat said Frederick Hoff arrived in Israel on Sunday and planned to meet Defense Minister Ehud Barak and senior military officers.
Israel's biggest-selling newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, reported that Hoff, who visited Damascus with Mitchell last month, would examine the possibility of resuming talks between Israel and Syria.
"Fred Hoff is the special adviser for regional affairs. Included in that title is working on Syria and Lebanon," the diplomat said, without elaborating on the aim of his visit.
Israel and Syria last held direct talks in 2000, in the United States, but failed to reach agreement on the future of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Israel captured the territory from Syria in a 1967 war.
The two countries held indirect talks, with Turkish mediation, last year but Syria froze contacts to protest Israel's December-January war in the Gaza Strip.
Commenting on Hoff's visit, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon told Army Radio: "We are not opposed to examining regional deals. But I still don't see that the basic conditions are ripe for any kind of progress with the Syrians.
Israeli leaders have called on Damascus to stop insisting on the return of the Golan Heights as a precondition for talks. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad also has played down prospects for negotiations, saying Syria did not have a partner.
Israeli-Palestinian negotiations are also stalled. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has demanded that Israel freeze settlement in the occupied West Bank before talks can resume.
Israel has been trying to work out a compromise on the settlement issue with Washington linked with progress toward normalization of relations with Arab countries in the region.