Syria says Israel ties only after full withdrawal

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WASHINGTON, Nov 28 (Reuters) Syria told a US peace conference on Tuesday that Israel should pull out of occupied land before Arab countries would normalise ties with the Jewish state.

''The establishment of normal ties with Israel ... must be the fruit of comprehensive peace and not precede it,'' Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Fayssal al-Mekdad told a closed session of the conference in Annapolis, Maryland yesterday, attended by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

''To phrase it clearly and decisively that this (normalisation) comes after the total Israeli withdrawal from the 1967 Arab land,'' he said in a speech obtained by Reuters.

''We are sincere in seeking a comprehensive and just peace and posses the political will to achieve it.'' Talks between Israel and Syria collapsed in 2000 after Damascus declined an Israeli offer to withdraw from most of the Golan Heights but not what Syria described as the full occupied territory.

Syria had made it clear that it would only attend the talks in Annapolis if the Golan was on the agenda. The demand was met by Washington which accuses Damascus of supporting militant Palestinian and Lebanese groups.

Mekdad reiterated the Syrian position that Israeli occupation of Arab land was the root of instability in the Middle East.

REUTERS SW KP0858

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