Syria has called for the co-sponsors of the peace talks to condemn Israel’s abduction of the leader of an Islamic resistance group from Lebanon on 21 May, saying it is hindering the search for a peaceful settlement in the region.

Israel has continued to take a tough stance despite the reopening of contacts with Syria to resolve the problem of the Golan Heights and its handover of power to the Palestinians in Gaza and Jericho.

On 25 May, Syrian officials said Foreign Affairs Minister Farouq al-Shara made his remarks during talks in Damascus with Victor Bosovaliuk, personal envoy of Russia’s President Yeltsin. They were the first official remarks on the kidnapping of Mustapha Abu Ali al-Dirani by Israeli commandos in east Lebanon (see Lebanon).

A strong line has also been taken in the occupied territories, after two Israeli guards were killed at their posts on 20 May by Islamist gunmen. Tel Aviv closed off the borders of the Gaza Strip saying it would give the Palestinian police force a chance to take control of security arrangements in the area. It also cut off Palestinian workers from their jobs in Israel for nine days.

The police disarmed members of PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat’s Fatah group for the first time on 25 May. The Islamist group Hamas has said it will not allow the Palestinian security forces to disarm any of their members, depriving them of the means to continue resistance against the occupying Israeli army.

The tough stance by Israel has also been prompted by a call by Arafat for jihad to liberate Jerusalem from Israeli control. Tel Aviv has responded to the remark, made on a trip to South Africa to congratulate Nelson Mandela on his election win, by demanding that Arafat make clear his commitment to a peaceful settlement.

Arafat has also affirmed his new-found authority by cancelling all laws enforced in the new self-rule area by Israel during the 27 years of occupation. According to the PLO chairman’s statement on 24 May, the self-rule area will now operate under the Jordanian laws in the West Bank town of Jericho and Egyptian law in Gaza.

The Israeli Foreign Affairs Ministry said after the announcement that it would consult the Washington declaration of principles before commenting.