Israel and Syria Confirm Ongoing Peace Talks

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Israel and Syria today confirmed for the first time that they've been holding indirect peace talks with the help of the Turkish government.

An Israeli official says two of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's senior advisers are currently in Istanbul with their Syrian counterparts; they have been holding indirect talks through senior Turkish diplomats since Monday.

Israeli officials say the goal is to restart direct talks and reach a comprehensive peace deal with Syria. A statement released simultaneously today in Israel and Syria said the two sides are committed to "serious and continuous" talks.

But the two sides have also yet to meet face to face.

Peace talks fell apart eight years ago over how much of the occupied Golan Heights Israel would be willing to return to Syria as part of a peace deal. Israel captured the territory in the 1967 war.

Just last fall, Israeli jets carried out an airstrike on what was alleged to be an North Korean-built nuclear facility in Syria.

The confirmation of talks comes at a sensitive time for Olmert. More direct negotiations with the Palestinians have made little progress, and Olmert is to be questioned again this week on allegations he took bribes from a businessman. Olmert has denied the allegations.

The unpopularity of Olmert — and his low approval ratings — leave him with little or no poltiical capital to try to convince skeptical public that a Syrian peace deal is possible.

Israeli officials say they are committed to holding separate peace talks with the Palestinians and Syrians simultaneously. The talks between Israel and the Palestinians have shown little progress to this point, and a growing number of moderate Palestinians are starting to questioning the basis of the process — the idea of Israel and Palestine living side by side.

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