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Mitchell Tells Lebanon, Syria US Committed to Comprehensive Israeli-Arab Peace

VOA, January 20, 2010

U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell has reiterated Washington's commitment to seeking a comprehensive Israeli-Arab peace deal, during visits to Lebanon and Syria.

Mitchell held talks Wednesday with Lebanese President Michel Suleiman in Beirut and later with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus.

He told them that Washington remains committed to helping Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinians achieve peace with Israel and to pursuing a full normalization of ties between Israel and Arab states.

Mitchell told Lebanese leaders that Lebanon will play a key role in efforts to stabilize the Middle East.  He also said Washington will not support any forced naturalization of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon as Lebanese citizens.

Lebanon is home to several hundred thousand Palestinians, including refugees displaced during Israel's establishment in 1948 and their descendants.  Many Lebanese oppose granting them citizenship, fearing such a move would shift Lebanon's sectarian balance.

In Damascus, Mitchell told President Assad that Washington looks forward to achieving progress in U.S.-Syrian relations and the Middle East peace process.

Mr. Assad reiterated Syria's support for what he called a "just and comprehensive peace" with Israel that entails an end to Israeli occupation and a restoration of Arab rights.  He also said Turkey has a key role to play in that process.

Turkey mediated indirect talks between Israel and Syria in 2008, in which Damascus demanded an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights in return for peace.  Israel captured the Golan from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War and annexed it in a move not internationally recognized.

The Israeli-Syrian talks broke down when Israel launched an offensive against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip in December 2008.

Mitchell's regional tour also includes visits to Israel and the West Bank, where he is seeking to revive Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that have been stalled for more than a year.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said talks cannot resume until Israel stops all settlement construction in disputed east Jerusalem and the West Bank - lands the Palestinians claim for a state.

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