DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) – Syria’s president said Saturday that the return of the Golan Heights from Israel was non-negotiable and he expressed confidence that the strategic plateau captured four decades ago would be handed back.
A year of indirect peace talks between the two countries ended in January, and the Syrian and Israeli leaders have laid out tough conditions for restarting negotiations. Syria has said it is willing to resume the Turkish-mediated talks if they focus on a complete Israeli withdrawal from the Golan, captured in the 1967 war. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he is not willing to cede the territory Syria wants.
“The return of all occupied land … is non negotiable,” Assad said in a speech marking Syria’s Army Day. “The Syrian Arab Golan will remain Arab … and will fully return to the nation.”
“Occupation and peace are two contradictory matters,” he said, adding that Syria seeks a “just and comprehensive peace.”
Turkey, which has close ties to Arab nations and Israel, mediated four rounds of indirect peace negotiations between the two countries last year. But Syria suspended them in December over Israel’s military offensive in Gaza.
Assad said in a newspaper interview in March that the talks failed because Israel would not make a clear commitment to return all of the Golan up to the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, Israel’s main water source. He also said recently that he did not think Netanyahu’s hard-line government, which took office in March, was a good peace partner.
Israel, for its part, demands that Syria end its support for the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas.
During a visit to Syria last month, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country was ready to help restart the indirect talks.
Direct talks between Israel and Syria under U.S. auspices failed in 2000 over the extent of an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan.