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Last Updated: Wednesday, 8 September, 2004, 13:11 GMT 14:11 UK
Israel and Syria swap peace barbs
Israeli soldiers in the Golan Heights
Israel and Syria's differences lie over the Golan Heights
Peace overtures to Israel made by Syria earlier this week appear to have done nothing to lessen their mutual enmity.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said it is not a genuine offer unless Damascus stopped backing "terrorism" against the Jewish state.

A Syrian official source has reportedly said this shows that the government of Israel is "not interested in peace".

Syria supports anti-Israel militant groups, but insists its support is political and not military.

Mr Sharon poured cold water on the prospects of a return to peace negotiations in an interview with the Jerusalem Post newspaper.

He said that President Bashar al-Assad's remarks about being "ready to resume peace talks" during a meeting with US envoys on 5 September were just public relations.

"Syria is under US pressure today because of its position on Iraq, and because it allows terrorists to go through its territory on the way to Iraq," Mr Sharon said.

So the Syrians were just talking about peace contacts "to make life easier for themselves", he said.

Syria's response came in a statement by an official source in Damascus to Reuters news agency.

"What His Excellency the president was quoted on represents the well-known Syrian position on peace," the official source said.

On Tuesday, UN envoy Terje-Roed Larsen said he believed that Syria was genuinely interested in returning to the negotiating table with Israel.

Peace talks last took place between Israel and Syria in 2000.

They foundered over the fate of the strategic Golan Heights, captured from Syria by Israel during the 1967 war and annexed 14 years later.

Syria wants to resume of talks from where they left off, but Mr Sharon - who came to power in 2001 - wants to start again from scratch.


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