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Deiss surprised at Israeli reaction to Golan Heights comments

The Swiss foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, has expressed surprise at Israel's reaction to comments he made in Syria on Wednesday. He said he had merely repeated Switzerland's view that Israel's annexation of the Golan Heights was illegal.

This content was published on March 3, 2000 - 19:39

The Swiss foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, has expressed surprise at Israel's reaction to comments he made in Syria on Wednesday. He said he had merely repeated Switzerland's long-held view that Israel's annexation of the Golan Heights was illegal.

He had said it was in breach of the Geneva Conventions, and restated Switzerland's view that Israel should withdraw from the territory. The Golan Heights were seized from Syria during the Six-Day War in the Middle East in 1967.

Israel's ambassador to Berne, Yitzhak Mayer, said he had been "irritated" by the comments, and called on Deiss to clarify them. Mayer said the Israeli foreign minister, David Levy, would ask for an explanation when he visits Switzerland on March 13.

But, speaking in Lebanon, Deiss defended his statements. He said it was natural that since he was visiting Syria, Syrian affairs had been at the forefront of discussions. He said that during his talks in Damascus, he had also emphasized Israel's right to existence and security.

Deiss is in Beirut, on the last leg of a nine-day tour of the Middle East. On Friday, he and the Lebanese finance minister, Georges Corm, signed an accord on the protection and promotion of investments. Deiss described the accord as the focus of his visit to Lebanon.

He said it should contribute to expand already intensive economic ties between the two countries. Deiss noted that Swiss industry was already well represented in Lebanon, in the pharmaceuticals, cement and banking sectors.

The Swiss foreign minister added that Lebanon was in the process of being rediscovered as a banking centre.

After talks with the interior minister, Michel Murr, on Thursday, Deiss underlined Lebanon's right to territorial and political sovereignty. He said that Berne supported the United Nations resolution calling for Israel's withdrawal from its self-declared security zone in southern Lebanon.

Deiss is due to meet the Lebanese president, Emile Lahoud, before returning to Switzerland later today.

From staff and wire reports

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