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Saturday, 4 March, 2000, 00:24 GMT
Israel and Syria deny accord
Israeli military post in the Golan Heights
Israel will not withdraw from the Golan without guarantees
An Israeli television report that a peace accord between Israel and Syria will be finalised within the next few weeks has prompted strongly worded denials from both governments.

TV Channel One's correspondent Amnon Abramovich said in his report: "I would say that within three to five weeks we can expect [Israeli prime-minister Ehud] Barak to submit to the Knesset, the cabinet and the Israeli public an agreement with Syria, which would also include a solution to the Lebanon problem."

Middle East
"The professional echelons have already finished their work, the details are clear, the formulas have been prepared and the time for making the decision has arrived."

According to the correspondent, "the border line between Israel and Syria will pass between the 4 June 1967 border and the international border, with Lake Tiberias and the Jordan River remaining under full Israeli control and sovereignty."

The agreement would also provide for security arrangements satisfactory to Israeli negotiators, control over water sources and "the preservation of Israel's national dignity.

'Good guess'

Israeli Education Minister, Yossi Sarid, who was in the television studio, called Mr Abramovitz's information "a good guess."

"It's not impossible that an agreement between us and Syria will be sealed within several weeks," Mr Sarid said.

But later the Prime Minister Ehud Barak's office denied the report.

"Israel has no information concerning the possibility of resuming the talks with the Syrians and the date when they will be renewed," said an official from Mr Barak's office.

A Syrian official in Damascus said: "The report by Israel's Channel One was totally baseless. All the details in that report were wrong."

He said Syria was still committed to the principles of the peace process, but added that "Israel's full withdrawal from the Golan Heights was not a subject for bargaining."

US dismissal

The US State Department spokesman, James Rubin, also dismissed the report.

"There is no new development to justify reports of a breakthrough," Mr Rubin said.

The Israeli public television report came after weeks of speculation that peace talks between Israel and Syria would continue soon.

The talks resumed in December after a halt of almost four years, but broke down in January over Israel's refusal to agree to a withdrawal to the lines it held on the eve of the 1967 Middle East war, when it captured the Golan Heights.

Any return of Golan land must be approved by the Israeli parliament and through a national referendum.

On Wednesday, parliament gave preliminary approval to a bill that would make it more difficult for a peace deal to win approval in a referendum by requiring a majority of all eligible voters, rather than just a majority of those who vote.

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See also:

11 Jan 00 |  Middle East
Washington's 'roadmap' to peace
10 Jan 00 |  Media reports
Media optimistic over Mid-East talks
10 Jan 00 |  Middle East
Washington's push for peace
09 Jan 00 |  Media reports
Peace talks media review
09 Jan 00 |  From Our Own Correspondent
Water wars and peace
03 Jan 00 |  Middle East
Analysis: Golan the key
05 Jan 00 |  Middle East
The Golan: Territory and security
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