Turkish leader presses Israel to return Golan

Turkish leader presses Israel to return Golan

Turkey's prime minister said Wednesday his country is prepared to resume mediating in the Arab-Israeli conflict and pressed Israel to return the Golan Heights to Syria, AP reported.

The Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan also strongly reprimanded Palestinians for the divisions between the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority and Hamas militants who run the Gaza Strip.

"(Palestinian) brothers are living apart from each other... What kind of brotherhood is that?" he asked.

Erdogan helped mediate last year in four rounds of indirect peace negotiations between Israel and Syria. But Syria suspended them in December over Israel's military offensive in Gaza.

"Unfortunately, with the Gaza incidents, this process was obstructed. Our wish would be that this not be obstructed, and this negativity be removed by returning Syria's rights," Erdogan said after meeting with President Bashar Assad in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo.

Before he left Turkey, Erdogan reiterated his country's readiness to help restart indirect talks between Syria and Israel. Turkey has also offered to mediate in other tracks of the Arab-Israeli peace process.

"New requests regarding this process may come up. ... In fact, they have already started to come," Erdogan told a news conference. He did not say who made the requests.

Syria has said it is willing to resume the Turkish-mediated talks if they focus on a complete Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, captured in 1967. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he is not willing to cede the territory Syria wants.

A government newspaper, Al-Thawra, said in an editorial Wednesday that Syria wants to restore all of Golan and would not agree to start negotiations from scratch.

"It's not in the interest of peace to waste time or efforts or to return to point zero under the pretext of preconditions," it said in an editorial. "Moving toward negotiations means an endorsement of a full withdrawal from the occupied land."

Assad said in a newspaper interview in March that the Turkish-mediated talks failed because Israel would not make a clear commitment to return all of the Golan up to the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee.

Assad said Israel wanted to keep some disputed land around the Galilee, its main water source.

Israel, for its part, demands that Syria end its support for the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas.

Direct talks between Israel and Syria under U.S. auspices also failed in 2000 over the extent of an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan.

Last month, President Barack Obama's special Mideast peace envoy, George Mitchell, became the highest-level U.S. administration official to visit Damascus since 2005. He acknowledged Syria's clout, declaring Damascus has a key role to play in forging Mideast peace.

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