The process of the indirect
talks, which were mediated by officials from Turkey, started in February 2007,
but were not made public until now. Major points of conflict are the Israeli occupation
of the Golan Heights area, and Syria's relationship with Iran and terrorist-linked
The Six Day War
Israel captured Golan Heights, a
plateau overlooking the Syrian capital Damascus on one side and the Sea of Galilee
on the other, from neighboring Syria during the Six Day War in 1967.
In a 1967 photo, President Lyndon Johnson and aides listen to Israeli Ambassador
Abba Eban before the Six Day War.
The war began when Israel, fearing an imminent Arab invasion, launched a preemptive
attack on Egypt.
Israel seized Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt,
the Golan Heights from Syria, and the West Bank of the Jordan River and East Jerusalem
The war was considered a monumental victory for Israel, but created
even deeper rifts with its neighbors.
Over time, Israel has given back
some of the land and come to agreements over other regions in an attempt to diffuse
conflict with Egypt, Jordan and Palestinian leaders.
The latest peace talks center on
Syria's demand that Israel return the Golan Heights, reported the Washington Post.
A Syrian girl takes a photo of an Israeli settlement in the Golan Heights.
But public opinion polls show that Israelis are opposed to such a move. Golan
is now home to some 20,000 Jewish settlers.
Voice of America reported
that 70 percent of Israelis oppose withdrawing from the Golan Heights as part
of a peace agreement, with only 22 percent in favor.
Israeli Prime Minister
Ehud Olmert said Monday that Israel has made no commitment to pull out yet, despite
a statement by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Mualem that Israel had already agreed
to return the territory.
Other conditions for peace
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni
said last week that "Israel wants to live in peace with its neighbors but
Syria also needs to understand that it needs also full renunciation of supporting
terror -- Hezbollah, Hamas and of course Iran."
Green flags are used to show support for Hamas, one of the groups Israel wants
Syria to denounce, along with Hezbollah.
Hezbollah, meaning the
Party of God, is a political and military organization in Lebanon mainly made
up of Shia Muslims. It is extremely hostile to Israel, and the United States calls
Hezbollah a terrorist organization.
In the summer of 2006, members of Hezbollah
captured two Israeli soldiers and killed several others, sparking a month-long
war with Israel.
Hamas is the largest Islamist movement in the Palestinian
territories. It is also considered a terrorist organization by the United States,
and has a militant wing that carries out attacks on Israel.
relations with Iran, U.S.
Syria and Iran have had an alliance
for three decades and in 2006, they signed an agreement on military cooperation.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said the White House hopes the talks address
Syria's support for terrorist organizations.
The alliance was formed in 1980 when Syria sided with Iran in its 8-year war
with neighboring Iraq -- an unpopular war among most Middle Eastern countries.
the two nations have had their disagreements, including Iran's recent claim that
it would investigate the assassination of a top Hezbollah commander who was killed
Syria has had a strained relationship with the Bush administration.
The Israel-Syria talks go against the U.S. policy of limited communication with
"We hope that this is a forum to address various concerns we
all have with Syria's support of terrorism, repression of its own people, and
so we will see how this progresses," said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino
in response to news of the talks.
But, said Paul Salem, director of the
Carnegie Middle East Center, in a press conference,"The development on the
Syrian-Israeli front, while flying in the face of Bush policy, might actually
end up bringing Syria further away from Iran and closer to U.S. allies in the
region and be a U.S. gain in the long term."