Syria: We Will Press for Cease-Fire to End Israel-Hezbollah Conflict

Syria, one of Hezbollah's main backers, said it will press for a cease-fire to end the fighting between Israel and the Islamic militant group but only in the framework of a broader Middle East peace initiative, signaling it was ready to help defuse Lebanese crisis.

Damascus warned, however, that it will not stand by if the Israelis step up their offensive in Lebanon.

"Syria and Spain are working to achieve a cease-fire, a prisoners' swap and to start a peace process as one package," Syrian Information Minister Mohsen Bilal was quoted as saying by the Spanish daily newspaper ABC.

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Bilal said Damascus would cooperate only within within the framework of a broader Middle East peace initiative that would include a return of the Golan Heights, captured by Israel in 1967.

"Syria is working on achieving real, comprehensive, fair peace based on the withdrawal from all the occupied territories, including the Golan," Bilal said.

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It was unlikely that Israel would agree to such a deal, but the remarks were the first indication of Syria's willingness to be involved in international efforts to defuse the Lebanese crisis.

The interview was also run in the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency, a tacit confirmation of the remarks.

"If Israel invades Lebanon and enters it by land, then it will be only about 12 miles from Damascus, then we will not stand with our hands tied," Bilal said.

Bilal gave the interview in Madrid after he held talks with the Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos, according to the Syrian agency report. It did not say when they met.

Syria and Iran are considered the major backers of the militant Hezbollah, which captured two Israeli soldiers July 12, sparking the latest round of Mideast violence.

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