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Olmert 'wants more Syria talks'

Israeli military exercise in occupied Golan Heights (Aug 2008)
The future of the Golan Heights is key to Israeli-Syrian relations

Outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert wants to resume indirect peace negotiations with Syria, his spokesman has said.

Four rounds of talks were held earlier this year, through Turkish mediators, but were suspended when Mr Olmert resigned over corruption allegations.

Mr Olmert is expected to remain caretaker prime minister until after elections due in February.

Syria has remained in a state of war with Israel since its 1948 foundation.

The talks are thought to centre on the fate of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and Syrian support for armed groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon.

They stopped during a period of political turbulence in Israel.

Olmert criticised

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was elected successor to Mr Olmert as leader of Kadima, the largest party in the Israeli parliament, known as the Knesset.

She had been thought likely to become prime minister last week, but failed to pull together a coalition, putting the country on the road to elections and giving Mr Olmert at least another three months in office.

Mr Olmert's spokesman, Mark Regev, said the caretaker prime minister "sees importance in the continuation of the dialogue" with Syria.

But the Israeli press quoted his office as saying Mr Olmert intended only to boost the diplomatic process, rather than to reach a deal.

In September Syria presented a six-point document for Israel to consider.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said the points concerned the "withdrawal line", a reference to the extent of Israel's possible withdrawal from the Golan Heights which it occupied in 1967.

But Syria has indicated that it is not hopeful of significant progress until a new administration is in place in the US.

The development also comes amid high tensions between Syria and the US, in the wake of an unconfirmed US military helicopter raid on Syrian territory, which Syria says killed eight people.

In addition, Mr Olmert has been criticised in Israel for overstepping his moral authority as a caretaker prime minister.

Direct Israel-Syria negotiations last took place in 2000 under US auspices.

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