x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Israel PM denies plan to return the Golan Height to Syria

Benjamin Netanyahu said he never agreed in principle to hand back land annexed from Syria as part of a secret US-mediated peace deal.

JERUSALEM // The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, denied a newspaper report yesterday that said he had agreed in principle to hand back land annexed from Syria as part of secret US-mediated peace talks.

Syria has long set a complete withdrawal from the Golan Heights as a condition for peace with Israel. The strategic plateau was captured by Israel in a 1967 war, then annexed in 1981 in a move not recognised internationally. Israeli leaders had consented to partial Golan pullbacks in past talks with Syria, though none had gone as far as Mr Netanyahu in agreeing to withdraw to the north-eastern shores of the Sea of Galilee, the Yedioth Ahronoth daily said.

The newspaper quoted unspecified US documents as saying Mr Netanyahu had expressed such a readiness, surprising US diplomats during indirect contacts. These contacts broke off last year due to the revolt against the Assad regime. Mr Netanyahu's office dismissed the report as "politically-motivated".

* Reuters