Give back Golan Heights, says minister

British Foreign Office Minister Ivan Lewis has called for Israel to give back the Golan Heights as part of a peace settlement with Syria.

Mr Lewis, on his first visit to the Middle East, made the call during a press conference in the Syrian capital Damascus after talks with Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem and his deputy.

Mr Lewis, who is Jewish and the MP for Bury South, said: “We think that there is now a very important opportunity for one of the world’s great conflicts to begin to come to an end.”

A solution, he said, should include “a viable Palestinian state” alongside Israel and a “comprehensive peace between Syria and Israel which includes the return of the Golan Heights”.

Mr Lewis’s views were in direct contrast to those expressed by Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who told visiting American congressmen on Monday that whatever agreement was reached with Syria, the Golan would remain under Israel’s control.

Mr Lewis, who is going to Israel and the West Bank later this month, pointed to a speech by President Obama in Egypt in June as the catalyst for renewed optimism about peace.

Andrew Balcombe, chairman of the Zionist Federation, said: “The British government is trying to pull Syria away from Iran. We hope that the minister is also telling Syria to stop assisting the rearming of Hizbollah.”

Last updated: 2:31pm, August 6 2009