Syria says it is ready to reach a full peace agreement with Israel, but has urged the Israeli government to clarify its position and take a serious approach to the peace process. US Secretary of State Warren Christopher is expected to visit the region soon to spur on the negotiations.

Syria’s Foreign Affairs Minister Farouq al-Shara said during a visit to the UK on 6-7 September that Syria was committed to reaching a warm peace with Israel. ‘But at the same time we would like to see much more seriousness from the Israeli side, less contradiction in their statements, more clarity in talking openly about the full withdrawal,’ he said, after talks with the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs Secretary Douglas Hurd.

Peace could be achieved by the end of the year, he said. ‘We are optimistic if the Israeli government would implement the components of the UN Security Council resolutions, if Israel would accept full withdrawal in return for full peace,’ he added.

However, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin has said the withdrawal from the Golan Heights will have to take place in stages. ‘During a certain period of time, without us arriving at the final line agreed upon with the Syrians…(we will need) a period of some three years as a test of normalisation before we complete the withdrawal,’ he told Israel army radio on 6 September.

In response to Al-Shara’s comments in London, Rabin said: ‘If the Syrian foreign minister says, ‘I want true warm peace’ I view that favourably. The problem is that not one person in the world doesn’t want peace but his interpretation of peace could be different.’

Security issues are also continuing to dominate the Palestinian-Israeli track of the peace talks. Palestinian police arrested 41 members of the Islamic Jihad on 6-7 September, after the group claimed responsibility for the killing of an Israeli soldier on 4 September (see Gaza/West Bank).

Rabin accused the Palestinian authority of failing to do enough to prevent such attacks. ‘The absence of firm and effective action by the Palestine authority to halt the terror of the extremists opposed to the peace process will create problems on Israel’s part in continuing the agreement,’ he said on 5 September.