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Last Updated: Sunday, 25 November 2007, 23:10 GMT
Syria to attend peace conference
File photo of Israeli vehicles during a training exercise in the Golan Heights
Israel has occupied the Golan Heights for 40 years
Syria has accepted an invitation by the United States to attend a Middle East conference near Washington this week.

Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad is due to lead the Syrian team at the conference, which begins on Tuesday.

Damascus has been offered talks on reviving Israel-Syria peace moves, which centre on the Golan Heights.

Meanwhile US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met Israeli and Palestinian negotiators to try to agree a joint document for the conference.

The meeting in Annapolis is aimed at launching talks for peace between Israel and the Palestinians and for the creation of a Palestinian state.

Ahead of the conference, US President George W Bush said he remained personally committed to achieving peace in the Middle East.

He said he wanted to see a democratic Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.

On Friday Saudi Arabia announced that it would attend, another boost to US efforts to win wide Arab support for the conference.

Uncertainty

Damascus had previously said it would not attend the conference unless the Golan Heights were on the agenda.

It is by no means clear to what extent the Golan will indeed be up for negotiation in Annapolis, the BBC's Joe Floto in Jerusalem says.

Correspondents say Syria's decision to send a deputy minister - rather than the foreign minister like other Arab states - may be due to this uncertainty.

Israel has welcomed the Syrian participation but has stressed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would be the main focus of the meeting.

Map of Golan Heights

Sources within the Israeli delegation say the issue of the Golan Heights will not appear on the main agenda.

But they have suggested the territory could still be discussed.

"There will be a plenary session which I will also attend and where issues pertaining to the comprehensive peace in the Middle East can be discussed, and that includes everything," Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said on Sunday.

"The Golan could also be raised there," she said, according to the AFP news agency.

Israel seized the Golan Heights from Syria in the closing stages of the 1967 Six-Day War.

Syria wants to secure the strategic plateau as part of any peace deal.

In Israel, the principle of returning the Golan Heights in return for peace is already established, but previous talks broke down in 2000 over Israel's demand to keep control of the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee - Israel's main source of water.

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