May 28, 2008 - 6:09pm

The recently revived peace talks between Syria and Israel may be hindered by the weakness of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, beleaguered by a political crisis, Syrian analysts said Wednesday.

The Syrian comment came shortly after Defense Minister Ehud Barak urged Olmert to step down or face early elections in light of the corruption investigation currently underway against him.

Syria and Israel announced last week they were engaged in indirect talks under Turkish auspices over the future of the Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria during the 1967 Six-Day War.
"Syria fears that Israel's weak government may become an obstacle to a peace that Syria wants to achieve," Mahdi Dahlallah, a former minister of information, told the German news agency Deutsche Presse-Agentur.

In 1981, Israel annexed the Golan, which is not only rich in water resources and fertile land but is also of great strategic importance.

There have been reports that Syria may agree in a final peace settlement to leasing the Golan to Israel for 25 years. But those reports have been categorically denied in Damascus, which insists, at least publicly, on the return of every inch of its land.

"Syria has no land for lease," the former minister said.

"There will not be any talks over anything other than the pre-June 5 border," Dahlallah added.

Also Wednesday, Mahmoud Abbas's spokesman said that the Palestinian President believed the political crisis in Israel, which resulted from the corruption probe against Olmert, will hurt peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

"No doubt, what's happening will leave a negative impact on negotiations," spokesman Nabil Abu Rdainah said in a statement.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey declined to speculate on the possible effect of a change in Israeli leadership on the U.S.-backed peace process.

"I'll leave it to the Israelis to have their own internal political debate and discussions," Casey said Wednesday. "We are committed to continuing to work with both sides to move the peace process forward and that's what we're going to continue to do."


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