May 27, 2008 - 6:13pm

Turkey said on Tuesday the indirect peace talks it is mediating between Israel and Syria could be upgraded to face-to-face encounters if progress is made.

Israel and Syria announced last week they had begun a dialogue with the aim of a comprehensive peace, the first confirmation of negotiations between the long-time enemies in eight years.

"A common ground is now being formed and that common ground is considered to be satisfactory by both sides," Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan told a news conference in Brussels.
"If meaningful and concrete developments take place in these mediated talks, it will be possible at that time to have direct meetings between the two sides," added Babacan.

However he stressed: "We are at the very beginning of this process and it is not going to be an easy one."

Turkey, which has good ties with both Israel and Syria, hosted three days of talks in Istanbul last week and has said a further round is scheduled to take place shortly.

Israel has set terms for a peace deal that include the demand that Damascus distance itself from Iran and stop supporting Palestinian and Lebanese militants.

Syria wants the return of the Golan Heights, a plateau overlooking Damascus on one side and the Sea of Galilee on another, which Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

Babacan was in Brussels to review Turkey's accession talks with the European Union.


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