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Switzerland offers to host peace summit between Israel and Syria

The Swiss foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, says Switzerland is ready to host peace talks between Israel and Syria. His comments come after the Israeli ambassador to Switzerland called on Deiss to clarify earlier remarks about the Golan Heights.

This content was published on March 3, 2000 - 20:48

The Swiss foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, says Switzerland is ready to host peace talks involving Israel, Syria and the United States, provided all sides want such a meeting. His comments come after the Israeli ambassador to Switzerland called on Deiss to clarify remarks he made about Israel's occupation of the Golan Heights.

Deiss raised the possibility of hosting a summit between Israel and Syria, with US involvement, at a press conference in Beirut, on the last day of his tour of the Middle East.

However, he made it clear that no invitation had been extended, and that any meeting would depend on agreement from all sides. He did not propose a time or date.

His suggestion comes after he described Israel's occupation of the Golan Heights as illegal and said it was in breach of the Geneva conventions. The Golan Heights, seized by Israel in 1967, are the chief obstacle to peace negotiations with Syria.

Israel's ambassador to Berne, Yitzhak Mayer, responded by calling on Deiss to clarify his remarks, which Mayer described as "irritating". Deiss is expected to discuss the issue with the Israeli foreign minister, David Levy, when he visits Switzerland on March 13.

In the meantime, Deiss has defended his statements. He said he had merely repeated Switzerland's long-held view on the Golan Heights, and that it was natural for him to discuss the issue since he was visiting Syria at the time.

He also pointed out that he had emphasised Israel's right to existence and security, during his talks with Syrian leaders.

Deiss's visit to Lebanon wraps up a nine-day tour of the Middle East, which has also taken him to Syria and Egypt.

In Beirut, he signed an accord on the protection and promotion of investments, saying it would boost economic ties between the two countries. Deiss noted that Swiss business was already well-represented in Lebanon, in the pharmaceuticals, cement and banking sectors.

From staff and wire reports

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