Israeli official rules out talks -- for now
JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israel's foreign minister on Sunday ruled out peace talks with Syria for now, saying Damascus must first end its support for Lebanese and Palestinian extremists.
Tzipi Livni told Israel's Channel 10 TV a move to open peace talks with Syria now would disrupt efforts to stabilize Lebanon after a 34-day war between Israel and the Hezbollah guerrillas.
"The tools are in place to free Lebanon from Syria," she said. "To add other Syrian interests to this 'salad,' if you'll pardon the expression, would in my opinion complicate a process that is acceptable to everyone."
Syria "must understand that [international] demands of it are clear," she said. They are "stopping support of terrorism -- Palestinian as well as Lebanese -- and this brings on the issue of sequence," she said.
In the past, ill-fated negotiations between Israel and Syria further vexed the tense relations between Israel and the Palestinians, Livni said, adding the Palestinian issue should be top priority now.
A previous Israeli government held intensive peace negotiations with Syria that neared agreement but broke down in 2000. Many analysts say the shift in Israel's attention from the Palestinians to Syria added to frustration that led to the outbreak of Palestinian violence in September 2000.
Syrian President Bashar Assad pledged Sunday to rebuild three southern Lebanese villages destroyed by Israeli bombardment, the country's official SANA news agency reported.
The overwhelmingly Shiite villages, Qana, Siddiqine and Qlaileh, are in the western sector of south Lebanon. The villages, all about five miles southeast of the southern port city of Tyre, were heavily bombarded during the recent conflict.
There was no immediate comment from the government in Lebanon, which is dominated by anti-Syrians.
Syria pulled its troops from Lebanon last year, after the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri which many in Lebanon blamed on Syria. The troop withdrawal marked the end of Syria's 29-year military domination of Lebanon.
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