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Netanyahu denies offering pullout for peace with Syria

JERUSALEM -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office denied a Friday report that he had offered to quit the occupied Golan Heights in exchange for peace with Syria in U.S.-mediated negotiations last year.

According to Yediot Aharonot daily, which broke the story, talks fizzled out without any agreement as domestic protest that erupted in mid-March 2011 against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's rule spiraled into civil war.

“This is one initiative of many that was proposed to Israel in the past years,” Netanyahu's office said. “At no stage did Israel accept this American initiative.”

The premier's office called the initiative “old and irrelevant,” and in a statement to Yediot Aharonot linked the report's timing to Netanyahu's call on Tuesday of a general election for early next year, in which he will be seeking the votes of right-wingers opposed to a Golan pullout.

Veteran diplomatic correspondent Shimon Schiffer wrote that late last year Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak began indirect negotiations with the Syrian president, through U.S. envoy Fred Hoff, who was at the time Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's special representative on Syria.

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