Israel's Gaza 'aggression' has halted peace talks

Indirect peace talks between Israel and Syria have been halted due to the Jewish state's "aggression" in Gaza, a senior Syrian official said on Sunday, the Associated Press reported.

"It's the Israeli aggression in Gaza which has closed the door on all activity in the political process" between Syria and Israel, the official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

In May, Syria and Israel -- technically still at war since the first Arab-Israeli conflict in 1948 -- began Turkish-mediated indirect talks after direct negotiations halted eight years ago over the thorny Golan Heights issue.

Israeli tanks were massed at the Gaza border on Sunday as warplanes again pounded Hamas targets in the densely populated enclave.

Since early Saturday, at least 287 people have been killed and more than 600 wounded, medics said.

The peace talks had in any case been on hold since Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert first announced in July he would step down over corruption allegations.

In exchange for peace Syria is demanding the return of the entire Golan Heights, occupied by Israel since the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed in 1981 in a move never recognised by the international community.

But Israel has baulked at this, since it would mean returning land right down to the shores of the Sea of Galilee -- its main source of fresh water.

Israel for its part is calling on Damascus to sever its ties with the current regime in Iran and stop its support for militants, namely the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas movements.

Earlier this month, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said that his country would eventually embark on direct peace talks with Israel, but they must be based on UN Security Council resolutions.

"Peace cannot be achieved through indirect negotiations alone. But if indirect talks succeed then direct negotiations will also, and peace will come naturally," Assad told reporters on December 22.

Security Council resolutions 242 and 338 call on Israel to withdraw from Arab territory it captured in the 1967 war.

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