Israel FM rejects new indirect talks with Syria

JERUSALEM – Hardline Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Thursday insisted Israel wants unconditional and direct talks with Syria, effectively rejecting calls for a relaunch of indirect negotiations.

\”Israel wants direct negotiations as soon as possible and without mediation,\” he said, in a statement from his ministry.

Israeli army radio said the minister rejected a Syrian proposal to restart indirect negotiations that were halted in December.

The proposal was presented to Israel by Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen during a Middle East trip.

Syria has expressed readiness to resume preliminary contacts through Turkish go-betweens and has been sending messages to Israel through intermediaries.

Turkey brokered four rounds of indirect contacts between Israel and Syria last year, with the aim of relaunching US-sponsored peace talks between the two foes that were broken off in 2000.

But the contacts were suspended in December when Israel launched its devastating 22-day military offensive against Gaza.

The Israeli government of hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has since ruled out meeting Syria\’s central demand — the return of the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau Israel seized in the 1967 Six-Day War.