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Page last updated at 15:26 GMT, Tuesday, 17 June 2008 16:26 UK

'Olmert to face Assad' in Paris

Israeli troops in the Golan observe Syria (archive)
Previous Syria-Israel talks broke down over the Golan Heights

The Syrian and Israeli leaders will come face to face next month at a Paris summit, France's foreign minister says.

Bernard Kouchner told parliament Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Israeli PM Ehud Olmert were expected at a forum to launch a new Mediterranean Union.

"The Syrian president will be there, sitting next to, at the same table, as the Israeli president," he said.

Syria and Israel ended two days of indirect peace talks in Turkey on Monday and have agreed to meet again.

Mr Kouchner did not confirm reports that a meeting could be held between the Israeli and Syrian leaders on the sidelines of the summit.

Mr Assad was invited to attend the 13 July conference to launch a new group of European and African countries.

The union aims to improve co-operation in areas like security, economic development, energy and immigration.

'Success'

Officials said on Monday that Israel and Syria had agreed to at least two more sets of talks under Turkish mediation.

The Israeli delegation is thought to have included two top aides of Mr Olmert.

Israeli and Turkish officials hailed the talks as a success, although Damascus has not yet confirmed any discussions even took place.

Previous peace talks between the two sides collapsed in 2000 over disagreements about the Golan Heights, occupied by Israel since 1967.

The Syrian government has insisted peace talks can be resumed only on the basis of Israel returning the Golan Heights.

Israeli authorities, for their part, have demanded that Syria abandon its support for Palestinian and Lebanese militant groups.


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