DAMASCUS, Aug 1 (Reuters/Khaled Yacoub Oweis) - Syria will not negotiate with Israel over letting the Jewish state keep occupied territory, President Bashar al-Assad said, days after Israel's prime minister expressed interest in resuming talks with Damascus.
In a statement on Syrian army day published in official media on Sunday, Assad repeated his assessment that the possibility of another Middle East war was rising in the absence of what he called Israel's willingness to make peace.
If anyone thinks that Syria might negotiate over its occupied land then they are mistaken, Assad said.
The liberation of the Golan is a deeply ingrained right. Peace requires restoring all the occupied soil until the line of June 4, 1967, he added.
The Middle East War broke out a day after this date and Israel swiftly defeated the armies of Syria, Jordan and Egypt.
Syria lost the Golan Heights to Israel, which annexed the territory in the early 1980s but did not build settlements on it as heavily as in the West Bank. A United Nations Security Council resolution declared the annexation illegal.
Assad said that while Syria was sticking to its pursuit of peace with Israel the army had to be prepared for war.
The world is certain now that Israel is the one putting obstacles in front of peace and its requirements, Assad said.
The spectre of real peace in the region is disappearing and the possibility of war is increasing, he added.
HEZBOLLAH IN THE MIDDLE
Tension between Syria and Israel rose this year after Israeli President Shimon Perez accused Syria of supplying Scud missiles to the Lebanese Shi'ite movement Hezbollah, which is also supported by Iran.
The Israeli foreign minister went further, saying Assad would lose power in any future war.
Syria said it could target Israeli cities next time and that while it was not arming Hezbollah, the Damascus government will not guarantee the security of the Jewish state.
Israeli leaders have stepped up their accusations about suspected military cooperation between Hezbollah and Syria, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel remained interested in negotiating peace with Syria.
There are different opinions as to whether the Syrians are serious in their intent to enter peace talks, or just acting to improve their international reputation, the Jerusalem Post quoted Netanyahu as telling an Israeli parliament committee.