DAMASCUS, Syria – Syria's leader said Saturday that Israel poses the "greatest obstacle" to Mideast peace and warned that a failure of negotiations would open the way for more resistance in occupied lands.
Bashar Assad said in a speech opening the foreign ministers' meeting of the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference in Damascus that peace must include regaining Arab territories held by Israel.
Israel and Syria conducted indirect peace negotiations through Turkish mediators last year. But Syria suspended them in December over Israel's Gaza war.
Assad said recently he didn't think Israel's hard-line government was a good peace partner since Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he would not return the Golan Heights captured from Syria in 1967 — a key Syrian demand.
Netanyahu has said, however, that he was open to restarting peace talks.
The Syrian leader said Syria continues to consider peace as a "strategic goal that must be reached one day," and he blamed Israel for the lack of progress since the launching of the internationally sponsored peace process in the early 1990s.
"The failure of the process so far showed blatantly that Israel is the greatest obstacle facing the hoped for peace," he said.
Assad said in a newspaper interview in March that the earlier indirect talks with Israel failed because the Jewish state would not make a clear commitment to return all of the Golan up to the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee.
Assad also said that Israel wanted Syria to end its support for the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas.
Direct talks between Syria and Israel under U.S. auspices failed in 2000 over the same issue of the extent of an Israeli withdrawal.
Assad warned that the "failure of political efforts to regain legitimate rights will give the resistance the right to carry out its duty in order to regain those rights."