- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 28, 2000

The failure of the weekend's U.S.-Syrian summit has negotiators worried that Israel which continues its talks with the Palestinians at Bolling Air Force Base will be drawn into warfare with Syria after its troops leave Lebanon in July.
Senior U.S. negotiator Dennis Ross flew to Israel shortly after a weekend meeting between Presidents Clinton and Hafez Assad of Syria ended with no agreement on terms for a resumption of Israeli-Syrian peace talks.
But Israelis appeared resigned to the bad news, and polls indicate many are glad there is no deal to return the Golan Heights a strategic plateau overlooking Israel and the Sea of Galilee.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa, visiting Washington with President Hosni Mubarak, refused yesterday to give up hope that Syria and Israel still would find a formula for peace.
Before Sunday's meeting between Mr. Clinton and Mr. Assad in Geneva, "I was very hopeful," Mr. Moussa said in a brief interview at a luncheon at Tysons Corners. "Now, you can delete the 'very.' "
As the Syrian track foundered, Israel and the Palestinians moved ahead on the most sensitive issues blocking a final peace accord between them.
Half a dozen officials from either side met Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright at the State Department yesterday following the conclusion of talks at secluded Bolling Air Force Base in Anacostia.
While no details of their discussions were forthcoming, State Department spokesman James Foley said they had discussed the final status of Jerusalem claimed by both sides as a capital as well as water resources, the return of Arab refugees, final borders and the nature of a Palestinian state.
"Our assessment of the talks is that they have been serious, intensive and indeed productive," Mr. Foley told reporters. Another official said both sides described the meetings as "upbeat."
"We expect that the parties will return [to their countries] tomorrow to brief their leaderships and to resume their negotiations in Washington in the next few weeks," Mr. Foley said. "I don't have a specific time or date for the resumption, but they will be coming back to Washington."
With the Palestinian talks moving ahead while the Syrian track is stalled, many in Israel worry about what will happen when their government goes ahead with its promised withdrawal of 30,000 troops from southern Lebanon.
Syrian officials warned Sunday that any such pullout would not bring Israel peace, implying a resumption or intensification of guerrilla attacks by Hezbollah, which is armed by Iran and controlled by Syria.
Both Israel and Hezbollah until recently have refrained from striking at civilian targets in response to attacks on combatants in Israel's so-called "security zone" in southern Lebanon.
However the government of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak had made clear it would respond forcefully to any attacks on Israel proper once its troops withdraw to their own side of the border.
Retaliatory attacks could be aimed at Syrian targets in Lebanon, particularly in the Bekaa Valley where Syrian troops are deployed not far from Israel's border.
Israeli politicians have called for such strikes if Damascus continues to funnel Iranian arms to Hezbollah.
Syria on Sunday rejected a proposal under which Israel would cede the Golan Heights, seized in the 1967 Six-Day Arab-Israel War, but retain a narrow strip bordering the Sea of Galilee, which provides about a third of Israel's fresh water.
Israel claims that the international border runs about 10 yards east of the water's edge but that Syria had taken land down to the sea during fighting in 1951.
Any peace plan that would return Syria to the edge of the lake seems unlikely to pass the national referendum that must be held in Israel before the government can approve it.
The Syrian-Israeli impasse is expected to feature prominently in talks today between Mr. Clinton and Mr. Mubarak, U.S. and Egyptian officials said.
"All of us are disappointed [by Sunday's failure] but we should be very careful and should be optimistic anyway, under any circumstances," Mr. Mubarak told reporters while visiting an Internet company in Herndon.
Abraham Rabinovich contributed to this article from Jerusalem.

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