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The BBC's Jeremy Bowen
"If Israel and Syria do make lasting peace the Middle East will change"
 real 28k

Professor Moshe Ma'oz, Hebrew University, Jerusalem
"It's not going to be a love affair, it's going to be very tough"
 real 28k

The BBC's Hilary Andersson in Jerusalem
"Ehud Barak warned Israel's parliament that a tough road lies ahead"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 14 December, 1999, 06:17 GMT
Barak carries Syria talks vote

Golan Heights residents protest against territorial compromise Golan Heights residents protest against territorial compromise

Israel's Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, is flying to Washington for talks with Syria after winning narrow backing for the initiative in his country's parliament.

Middle East
A 47-31 vote in support of the negotiations followed a stormy debate over a speech by Mr Barak, in which he warned Israel would have to pay a "heavy territorial price" on the Golan Heights for success in the talks.

Seven members of Mr Barak's own 68-member coalition voted against, and 19 abstained - suggesting the Israeli leader will face further opposition as the talks proceed.

Thousands of Golan Heights settlers and their supporters demonstrated outside the parliament building.

In a counter demonstration, about 2,000 supporters of the dovish Peace Now movement rallied outside Mr Barak's Jerusalem residence, wishing him success in the talks.

Our supreme responsibility is to act today so that we will not dig new rows of graves tomorrow
Ehud Barak
Polls in weekend newspapers suggested Israelis were evenly divided over whether peace with Syria was worth giving up the Golan Heights.

The talks are due to start on Wednesday.

Mr Barak said the vote represented a "temporary stage" on the way to a peace deal.

"If we succeed in bringing before the nation a peace agreement with Syria that will strengthen Israel's security ... it will pass by an overwhelming majority," he said in a statement following the vote.

Earlier, Mr Barak told MPs: "This moment is an opportunity that cannot be squandered. Squandering it, heaven forbid, could cost us in blood."

Ehud Barak Ehud Barak hopes for a treaty within months
He said any peace agreement with Syria could have considerable consequences for Israelis living in the disputed Golan Heights, the strategic plateau Israel captured from Syria in 1967.

"I cannot promise you that reaching agreement is possible without a heavy territorial price," he said.

But he said peace with Syria could bring economic growth to the region.

"Our supreme responsibility is to act today so that we will not dig new rows of graves tomorrow in a conflict that could have been ended," he added.

He said that a referendum on any agreement could be held within six months.

Farouk al-Sharaa Farouk al-Sharaa will negotiate with Ehud Barak
The vote followed a positive Syrian analysis of the prospects for peace from Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa on Sunday.

"I am so optimistic to say that a few months could be enough to reach a peace agreement," Mr Sharaa said.

The Syrian-Israeli peace talks, which opened in Madrid in 1991, broke off in March 1996 without reaching agreement on future ties and the fate of the Golan Heights.

Syria wants the return of all the Golan Heights, and the eviction of 17,000 Israeli settlers living there.

It says that Mr Barak's predecessor, the late Yitzhak Rabin, promised the pullback in return for peace. Israel has denied the claim.

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See also:
13 Dec 99 |  Media reports
Barak speaks of peace or bloodshed
13 Dec 99 |  Middle East
Golan settlers dig in
10 Dec 99 |  Middle East
Historic opportunity for peace
10 Dec 99 |  Middle East
Israel divided over Golan Heights
10 Dec 99 |  Middle East
Careful words to kick-start talks
09 Dec 99 |  Middle East
Albright: 2000 'year of peace'
03 Sep 99 |  Israel elections
Israel: History of conflict

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