Deiss visits Golan Heights

The Swiss foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, who's on a visit to Syria, has visited the Golan Heights, where he held talks with United Nations peacekeepers and Swiss observers monitoring the ceasefire in the divided territory.

This content was published on March 1, 2000 - 16:37

The Swiss foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, who's on a visit to Syria, has visited the Golan Heights, where he held talks with United Nations peacekeepers and Swiss observers monitoring the ceasefire in the divided territory.

Despite its neutrality, Switzerland has called for Israel to return the Golan Heights to Syria.

Later today he is due to hold talks with the Syrian president, Hafez al-Assad, although some doubt remains over whether they will meet. Officially, this is because of security concerns, but correspondents say it is more to do with Assad's fragile state of health.

Deiss is expected to call on Syria to end its boycott of the multilateral peace talks, in which Switzerland is a participant. Damascus says it wants to resolve its problems with Israel before embarking on a multilateral process. However, the talks with Israel are currently stalled.

Deiss is making the first visit to Damascus by a Swiss minister for 15 years. Its key aim is to try to deepen the currently lukewarm relations between the two countries. He will do this not only by emphasising the Swiss involvement in the peace process, but also by proposing to boost economic ties with Damascus. To this end, a delegation of Swiss business leaders is accompanying the minister.

Before leaving Egypt on Tuesday, Deiss told a gathering of Switzerland's ambassadors in the Middle East of the need to adapt Swiss foreign policy to the changing world.

His four-day trip to Egypt was overshadowed by the dispute over compensation for the families of the victims of the 1997 Luxor massacre, in which 36 Swiss tourists were killed.

Deiss will travel on to Lebanon on Thursday, where he is scheduled to hold talks with the Lebanese president, Emile Lahoud. He is also expected to sign a bilateral agreement on the protection and promotion of investments.

From staff and wire reports

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