Syrian President Bashar Assad said in an interview with Russian state news Thursday that peace talks with Israel would only take place if the Israelis return the Golan Heights to Syrian control.
In the interview, Assad said that Syria would hold peace talks with Israel only when the Jewish state was ready “to return the occupied Syrian land.”
Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria during the 1967 Six Day War and the two countries have been technically at war ever since.
Assad’s statements seemingly came in response to recent speculation that Syria is interested in negotiations with Israel in order to alleviate crushing economic sanctions imposed by the United States.
The report by Ibrahim Hamidi, a senior diplomatic editor at the Asharq al-Awsat newspaper and an expert in Syrian affairs, speculated that Syria’s silence on the recent normalization accords between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, along with a delivery of Humanitarian aid from the UAE, indicated Syria was interested in coming to the table in order to appease the Americans.
Asked about normalization with Israel, Assad said that normalization is possible “only when we can reclaim our land, it is very simple,” he said.
Assad also emphasized in the interview that Syria was not negotiating with Israel.
Israel and Syria have fought three major wars since the establishment of the Jewish state. After the Israeli capture of the Golan Heights in 1967, and bitter fighting over the Golan in the 1973 war, Israel extended its law to the Heights in 1981 — with Israeli sovereignty recognized by the Trump Administration in March 2019. Intermittent Israel-Syria peace efforts in the 1990s talks foundered amid ongoing public demands by Bashar’s father, former president Hafez Assad, for the full return of the Golan, and his continued insistence in behind-the-scenes negotiations at least on continued access to the waters of the Sea of Galilee.
More recently, Israel’s military has acted to prevent the Syrian civil war spilling over into its territory, and launched hundreds of strikes targeting arms convoys and depots and other targets — seeking to prevent the supply of arms to the Hezbollah terror group and to thwart Iran’s ongoing efforts to establish a major military presence in Syria.
In June, American legislation called the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act came into force and represented a vast financial pressure campaign on the Syrian government for its human rights abuses during the Syrian Civil War, in which at least 380,000 people have lost their lives, according to the Syrian opposition.
The first batch of sanctions targeted 39 people or entities, including Assad personally as well as his wife, Asma. It also penalized in the United States any company that did business with Assad.
Fears of action against foreign investors under the Caesar Act have wreaked further havoc on Syria’s shattered economy by dimming hopes for reconstruction.
Agencies contributed to this report.