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Last Updated: Saturday, 9 June 2007, 11:48 GMT 12:48 UK
Israel 'tests' Syria peace aims
Israeli forces on exercises in the Golan in march
Israel has occupied the Golan Heights since 1967
Israel's government has sent secret messages to Syria about the possibility of renewing peace negotiations, the deputy prime minister has confirmed.

Shaul Mofaz did not comment on the content of the messages, but said it was important that a secret channel existed for sending them.

He said Syria had yet to respond. The last attempt at a deal between the two countries broke down seven years ago.

On Wednesday, PM Ehud Olmert said his country did not want war with Syria.

He also repeated his warning that a "miscalculation" could spark hostilities between the two.

Israel and Syria are officially at war, and Israel has occupied the Golan Heights since 1967.

Syria says that in the mid-1990s the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin agreed to a total pullback from the Golan Heights.

The Israelis say this was only a theoretical acceptance and that it depended on the full normalisation of relations, a condition that Syria, it claims, did not accept.

Devil in detail

There has been widespread speculation about possible talks with Syria since the end of Israel's war in Lebanon last summer.

Mr Olmert and Syrian President Bashar Assad have both said they are interested but it is not clear how serious their intentions are, says the BBC's Katya Adler in Jerusalem.

Detailed Golan map

Syria has not commented in public about Israel's demand that it stop supporting the armed Palestinian groups and the armed Lebanese Hezbollah movement.

Israel has not announced the extent to which it is willing to withdraw from the Golan Heights.

On Tuesday, the Israeli military staged exercises in the Golan Heights.

Israeli Defence Minister Amir Peretz said on Wednesday that the exercises did "not reflect aggressive intentions against Syria".

Some Israeli intelligence officials have been warning in recent weeks that Damascus was preparing for a conflict.

The details of a possible Israeli withdrawal have bedevilled past negotiations between the two countries, our correspondent says.

Returning the Golan to Syria is not a popular concept in Israel, she says, as it provides the country with its largest source of drinking water and is home to successful wineries and popular tourist sites.

Israel's prime minister is languishing in the opinion polls and this could make it harder to agree to a full withdrawal if the talk about talks with Syria turn into something concrete, says our Jerusalem correspondent.


SEE ALSO
Israel not seeking war with Syria
06 Jun 07 |  Middle East
Syrians and Israelis 'held talks'
16 Jan 07 |  Middle East
How 1967 defined the Middle East
04 Jun 07 |  Middle East
History of failed peace talks
21 May 07 |  Middle East

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