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Copyright 2003 Haaretz
July 17

HEADLINE: Syria ready to discuss releasing kidnapped Israelis

BYLINE: Haaretz Service

Syrian President Bashar Assad is interested in opening direct negotiations with Israel and discussing the release of kidnapped and missing Israelis in a prisoner exchange, Ma'ariv reported Thursday.

Of the missing Israelis, Assad was quoted as saying: "Some are dead, some are alive. We know where they are and demand the release of prisoners held in Israel in exchange for them, including at least two Syrian citizens."

Assad reportedly made the comments in a Damascus meeting he had about a week ago with United Nations Mideast envoy Terje Larsen.

Assad said he wanted direct contact with Israel. "We're interested in negotiating with Israel, in bilateral talks," he said, according to the report.

Syria expressed on Saturday its readiness to renew peace talks with Israel if Israel were to agree to completely withdraw from the Golan Heights.

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