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Surprise Erdogan Visit to Damascus May Revive Israel-Syria Talks

Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan will be in Syria on Wednesday for a surprise trip that may be an attempt to revive Israeli-Syrian talks.
By Zalman Nelson
First Publish: 7/21/2009, 12:52 PM

Israel news photo

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu will be in Syria on Wednesday for a surprise trip that Turkish media are reporting is an attempt to revive talks between Israel-Syria.

According to the Turkish daily paper Sabah, Erdogan’s trip is connected to the recent visit by Fred Hof, the Lebanese and Syrian portfolio adviser to U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell, to Damascus and Israel.

In a July 15 meeting with Hof, Deputy Israeli Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said that Israel is ready to start negotiations with Syria with out preconditions. He argued, however, that it was impossible for Syria to enter peace talks and yet ally itself closely with Iran, and support the Hamas and Hizbullah terror groups.

Turkish-mediated negotiations between Israeli and Syria were launched last May under former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Syria’s motives were to regain the strategic Golan Heights, captured by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War, and to re-establish contacts with the United States via talks with the Jewish state. Israel sought to pull Syria away from Iran’s influence, driving a wedge between the country and Hizbullah and Hamas terrorists headquartered in Damascus.

Talks broke down earlier in the year when Syria withdrew in protest over Israel’s counterterror Cast Lead operation in Gaza. In addition, Turkish criticism of the operation soured that country’s relationship with Israel during the interim.

In another possible sign of the imminent resumption of talks, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu asked Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman to formulate a government policy towards the Shebaa Farms area on the Israeli-Lebanese border. While Hizbullah claims that the area is part of Lebanese territory, the UN has affirmed that the area is properly part of the Golan Heights.

The U.S. administration has asked Syria to demarcate its border with Lebanon as part of a possible plan in which Israel would withdraw from the disputed area in peace negotiations.