US urges Syria, Israel to exercise self-restraint in bid to resume stalled peace negotiations

February 5, 2010
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Assad reviews latest developments with Moratinos in Damascus - SANA

 The US has urged Syria and Israel to exercise self-restraint and avoid compounding a tense situation that would make it difficult to resume stalled peace negotiations, a pan-Arab newspaper has reported.

A dramatic escalation of a war of words between Damascus and Tel Aviv this week has threatened to shake the fragile situation in the region, and the US is seeking to keep the status-quo until at least Robert Ford, the new US ambassador to Syria, takes up his post following a five-year diplomatic hiatus.

“Washington is working seriously on resuming peace negotiations promptly and on all tracks, including the Syrian-Israeli track” an unnamed State Department sources was quoted as saying by the London-based Asharq Al Awsat. “There are pending issues that are a source of concern with the Syrians. The new ambassador Robert Ford will, as soon as his nomination is approved by the Congress, review the issues with the Syrians,” the State Department said.

The exchange of words words started with comments by Defense Minister Ehud Barak to the effect that an Israeli failure to reach an agreement with Syria could result in an all-out war in the region.

“Just like the familiar reality in the Middle East, we will immediately sit down [with Syria] after such a war and negotiate on the exact same issues we have been discussing with them for the past 15 years,” Barak said.  

On Wednesday, President Bashar Assad told visiting Spanish Foreign Affairs Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos that Israel was not serious about achieving peace “since all facts point out that Israel is pushing the region towards war, not peace.”

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem at a press conference with Moratinos warned Israel against drawing Syria into war.

The situation was exacerbated by Israel’s foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman who warned President Assad that if his country entered a conflict with Israel, he would not only lose, but his regime would also disintegrate.

“Assad should know that if he attacks, he will not only lose the war. Neither he nor his family will remain in power,” Lieberman said. “Our message should be that if Assad’s father lost a war but remained in power, the son should know that an attack would cost him his regime. This is the message that must be conveyed to the Syrian leader by Israel.” 

However, in the wake of the antagonistic threats against Syria and the tense situation, Israel quickly moved on several levels to make sure that misunderstandings between the two countries do not deteriorate into diplomatic tension.

On Thursday, Barak attempted to calm tension by relaying a message to Syria, claiming that his statement was meant for Israeli ears alone in order to emphasize the importance of peace talks, “and in no way did he insinuate that Israel intended to attack Syria.”

On Friday, Israeli daily Haaretz reported that a top aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Israel wanted to start talks that would culminate with a permanent peace agreement with Syria, but would continue to react against any threats to its safety.

Nir Hefetz, head of the National Information Directorate in the prime minister’s bureau, said after a meeting with Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman that the two wished to emphasize their commitment to peace with Israel’s neighbor to the north.

Hefetz said that Lieberman and Netanyahu wished to clarify that the “government’s policy is clear, that Israel desires peace and to engage in unconditional talks with Syria.”

“At the same time,” Hefetz added, “Israel would continue to assertively and decisively react against any threat made against it.”

         

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About the author

Born August 3, 1960 in Monastir, Tunisia
Career
Media career:
  • ABC News (Tunisia)
  • Bahrain Tribune
  • Gulf News
  • Bahrain Television News
Teaching career:
  • Monastir (Tunisia)
  • University of Bahrain
Education
  • MA  Mass Communications, University of Leicester
  • BA  in English & US literature and studies, University of Tunis

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