AFP: Former Syrian president Hafez al-Assad said during secret peace talks in the 1990s he was ready to leave a strategic Golan Heights stronghold under Israeli control, ex-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday. JERUSALEM, June 7, 2007 (AFP) – Former Syrian president Hafez al-Assad said during secret peace talks in the 1990s he was ready to leave a strategic Golan Heights stronghold under Israeli control, ex-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday.
“People don’t know that Assad ceded the Hermon,” Netanyahu told the private Radius 100FM radio station, referring to a strategic mountain in the northern Golan plateau which Israel captured 40 years ago during the Six Day War and annexed in 1981.
“I told him ‘I have a pre-condition,’ that’s what I told him, ‘I have a pre-condition — the Hermon.’ He asked me ‘why do need this pre-condition?’ and I said ‘because the Iranian threat… there is a threat from Iran, and I need to have eyes looking east.’ And he gave me the Hermon,” the hawkish MP said.
Netanyahu held indirect peace talks with Assad — the father of current Syrian President Bashar al-Assad — between 1998 and 1999, but they did not materialise into a peace treaty.
Syria has demanded Israel’s complete withdrawal to pre-1967 borders in any peace agreement.
US-brokered peace talks between Israel and Syria later collapsed in 2000 after the sides failed to agree on the extent of Israel’s withdrawal from the Golan.
Netanyahu’s statements came amid heightened tensions between Israel and Syria, with both sides declaring their willingness to hold peace talks but also warning of possible war.
Earlier on Thursday, a Syrian official said Damascus would like to resume peace negotiations with Israel, a day after Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said it did not want to go to war with its arch-foe.