The United States hopes to move beyond talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority to negotiations that include Syria and Lebanon as well, according to U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs Jeffery Feltman. Feltman, formerly the U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon, made his statements Friday in an interview with Al-Arabiya TV that was picked up by Lebanese media.
While expressing a desire to include Lebanon and Syria in the talks, Feltman noted that there are many issues standing in the way of broader Middle East negotiations.
As if to illustrate the issues Feltman was referring to, a Hizbullah weapons cache exploded in the city of Shehabiyeh on Friday. A three-story building went up in flames. According to Hizbullah, there were no casualties. The terrorist group kept media from the site.
UNIFIL troops in Lebanon said Saturday that they are waiting for the results of an investigation before drawing conclusions from the occurrence. UNIFIL is tasked with enforcing the agreement that ended the Second Lebanon War, which calls for Hizbullah to be disarmed south of the Litani River -- an area which includes Shehabiyeh.
The Syria-backed Shiite Muslim terrorist group Hizbullah dominates southern Lebanon. The group is now a part of Lebanon's ruling coalition, and opposes any attempt to negotiate with Israel, which it refuses to recognize.
Syrian leaders agreed to conduct indirect talks with Israel's previous prime minister, Ehud Olmert (Kadima). During the indirect talks, Syrian President Bashar Assad demanded that Israel turn over the entire strategic Golan region in exchange for a peace deal. The Israeli public has overwhelmingly rejected the idea of relinquishing sovereignty over the Golan, which was annexed following the Six Day War.
Talks between Israel and the PA began just last week. The fledgling negotiations are at risk of ending shortly after they began, due to PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas's insistence that Israel permanently freeze all construction for Jews east of the 1949 armistice line, where more than 300,000 Israelis make their homes.