Last Updated: Mon Nov 01, 2010 20:34 pm (KSA) 17:34 pm (GMT)

Erdogan in Syria to probe peace with Israel

"The trust Turkey has makes it almost obligatory to take on a mediating role," Erdogan said.
"The trust Turkey has makes it almost obligatory to take on a mediating role," Erdogan said.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Saturday to discuss Turkish attempts to help re-launch frozen peace talks between Syria and Israel.

"The trust Turkey has makes it almost obligatory to take on a mediating role," Erdogan told reporters in Turkey before flying to the Syrian capital.

"The peace diplomacy we carry out will have a positive contribution ... whether in Iraq, between Syria and Israel or between Israel and Palestine."

Turkey, a mainly Muslim country with close ties with Israel, has been relaying messages between Syria and Israel for months, diplomats say.

Syrian officials say Erdogan called Assad last week to tell him Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had told Turkey that Israel was willing to give back all of Syria's Golan Heights in return for peace with Syria.

Assad told Qatar's al-Watan newspaper this week that Syria was ready to negotiate with Israel through Turkey to "find common ground" for peace, but any direct talks must wait until a new U.S. president was elected.

Olmert, who has been on holiday in the Golan Heights this month, told the daily Yedioth Ahronoth last week, in answer to a question on pulling out of the Golan, that he was working to achieve a "significant move" for peace with Syria.

Erdogan is due to leave Damascus later Saturday after having lunch with Assad. He earlier opened a Syrian-Turkish business forum.

"There was misunderstanding between our two countries in the past, but we look forward to a new era. Our economic ties are buoyant and there is strong political will to develop them," Erdogan told the businessmen.

The Damascus government has been rebuilding relations with Ankara after they were strained by Damascus support for Turkish separatists a decade ago.

Erdogan said Turkey plans to remove minefields along the border with Syria that were planted to stop the movement of Kurdish rebels into Syria.

Israel occupied the Golan Heights in 1967 and annexed them in 1981 in a move rejected by the U.N. Security Council.

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