Page last updated at 14:52 GMT, Wednesday, 21 May 2008 15:52 UK

Israel-Syria confirm peace talks

Village in Golan  Heights
Israel and Syria remain technically at war over the Golan Heights

Israel and Syria have said they are holding indirect talks to reach a comprehensive peace agreement.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office said both sides were talking "in good faith and openly".

The Syrian foreign ministry also confirmed the Turkish-mediated talks, the first since 2000.

The last round of negotiations broke down because of disagreement over the extent of Israel's possible withdrawal from the Golan Heights.

Israel captured the Golan Heights in the 1967 Middle East war. The two countries are still technically at war.

It was reported in April that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was mediating in talks between the two sides.

New momentum

In a statement, Syria's foreign ministry said both sides had "expressed their desire to conduct the talks in goodwill and decided to continue dialogue with seriousness to achieve comprehensive peace".

Detailed Golan map

Mr Olmert's spokesman Mark Regev said the two countries had indicated "they want to lead these negotiations in a serious spirit so as to achieve complete peace".

The Syrian foreign minister, Walid Muallem, said Israel had agreed to withdraw from the Golan up to the armistice line of 1967.

Israel has refused to comment on the claim, although a spokesman for Mr Olmert said the current talks were being carried out with the failure of the previous ones in mind, and that the talks had recently gathered momentum.

The US and the EU have welcomed news of the talks, and both have praised Turkey's role as facilitator.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said he hoped the two parties "will reach a peaceful solution".

Analysts suggest that, in return for any withdrawal, Israel would demand Syria sever its ties with Iran and the Hezbollah group in Lebanon.

However, they add that withdrawal from the Golan would not be popular with Israelis.

The reports of talks in April sparked outrage in the Israeli parliament, where several MPs said they would try to accelerate the passage of a bill requiring any withdrawal from the Golan to be backed by a referendum.

Mr Olmert is currently battling corruption allegations, and the BBC's Katya Adler in Jerusalem says the prime minister's critics believe the confirmation of peace talks may be an attempt to divert some attention from that.

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