Syria Calls Off Next Round of Talks

Ad Feedback - DAMASCUS - Syrian President Bashar Assad called off the next round of third-party talks with Israel due to "the domestic situation in Israel" and the "resignation of the Israeli emissary."

Assad was referring to the resignation of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's senior aide Yoram Turbowicz.

The Syrian president made the announcement during a meeting in Damascus attended by French President Nicholas Sarkozy, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, the emir of Qatar.

According to Assad, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government has agreed to cede the Golan Heights. Assad is seeking backing from the international community to ensure that the next Israeli government line up with decisions made by the Olmert coalition.

Meanwhile, Sarkozy said France would be happy to sponsor direct negotiations between Israel and Syria and help in any other way it can.

"It is very important that the time for Syria and Israel to talk directly comes soon to build the peace that everyone needs," Sarkozy told reporters in a joint press conference with Assad.

Sarkozy's Syria trip marks the first Western head of state to visit Damascus since the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in Beirut in 2005, for which many held Syria responsible.

For Assad, Sarkozy's visit affirms Syria as a key player in the Middle East peace process.

"Today there is a new era between Syria and France based on France's new policy, a realistic, pragmatic policy that is aimed at achieving peace and that calls for dialogue," the Syrian leader said on French television Tuesday.

Sarkozy responded in kind.

"As I told President Bashar al-Assad when he came to Paris on July 12, the path of peace in this region passes through our countries," Syria's al-Watan paper quoted Sarkozy as saying.

Meanwhile, a few hours after espousing his desire for peace with Israel, Assad reaffirmed his close relationship with the Hezbollah terror organization.

"Syria has no interest in relinquishing its ties with Hezbollah," Assad said in an interview on Hezbollah's satellite station, al-Manar.

"Our attitude toward the resistance is clear wherever it may be -- against the occupation in Iraq, Lebanon or Palestine," he said, explaining that his decision to negotiate with Israel and strengthen ties with Western nations was "in order to serve our own interests and not to give away any gifts."

Sources: YNet news, The Jerusalem Post

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