Hopes of progress on the Syrian-Israeli track of peace negotiations have been hit by the increasingly negative tone of statements from both sides.

Damascus has rejected Israeli proposals to hold secret talks with Tel Aviv and has also refused a request to upgrade the Washington talks, which are now being held at ambassadorial level, Syrian Interior Minister Mohammad Harba said on 21 February. He also said Israel is trying to drive a wedge between Lebanon and Syria by trying to get Beirut to sign a separate peace deal. The minister reiterated his country’s objections to a referendum on withdrawal from the Golan Heights.

Tel Aviv has said the decision to allow an Israeli-Arab delegation to visit Syria was a positive gesture by Damascus. Israel’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Shimon Peres, said on 18 February: ‘I think it is a positive signal which we welcome but it has its limitations. It is still not an opening of possibilities.’ However, Israel has continued to to urge Damascus to intervene and prevent attacks by Lebanese militia groups on Israel’s occupying forces in south Lebanon.