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Israel, Syria acknowledge indirect talks in Turkey

  • Story Highlights
  • Israel says it is holding indirect peace talks with Syria mediated by Turkey
  • Syrian state-run media confirmed the two sides were engaged in indirect talks
  • Israel captured Golan Heights from Syria in 1967; source of contention since
  • Last round of peace talks between two countries broke down in 2000
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JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israeli and Syrian officials confirmed Wednesday they are indirectly negotiating a possible peace deal under Turkish mediation.

A U.N. soldier looks out from an observation tower in the largely abandoned city of Quneitra in the Golan Heights.

At a speech in Tel Aviv, Israel, Wednesday night, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the disclosure of the talks was the end of a phase that had been going on for over a year.

He also said that he has no illusions and that the negotiations will be difficult, lengthy and will require difficult concessions.

Earlier, Olmert's office issued a statement saying: "The two sides stated their intention to conduct these talks in good faith and with an open mind."

It was the first official confirmation of the indirect talks between Israel and Syria. Turkish and Syrian officials also confirmed the talks.

Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria during the 1967 Six Day War, and the area has been a source of contention since.

The last round of peace negotiations between the two countries broke down in 2000, after Syria demanded a full return of the Golan.

For its part, Israel wants Syria to abandon its support of Palestinian and Lebanese militant groups as part of any peace agreement.

The United States has been informed about the indirect talks, according to Assistant Secretary of State David Welch, who praised Turkey for playing "a good and useful role."

Welch noted that the United States is not playing any role in those talks, adding that President Bush is focused on getting an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal by the end of this year.

"The expansion of the circle of peace would be a good thing and it would be helpful if that includes an agreement with Syria," Welch said.

Wednesday's announcement comes about a month after Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad admitted his country has been indirectly negotiating with Israel for about a year under the auspices of Turkey.

His admission last month, in an interview with a leading Arabic language newspaper, confirmed long-standing rumors that the two countries were discussing the Golan Heights.

A week after the interview, senior Israeli officials met with their Turkish counterparts and agreed to publicly announce the year-long talks.

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