George Mitchell
Photo: AP
US Middle East envoy Mitchell heading to Syria
Obama administration hopes diplomatic outreach will encourage Damascus to back Mideast peace process
The US special envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, will be in Syria on Friday as part of US efforts to improve ties with Damascus and forge Arab-Israeli peace, the State Department said on Thursday.


Mitchell, who is currently in Abu Dhabi, will also visit Israel and the Palestinian territories this weekend and then go on to Bahrain and Egypt, said State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley.


Crowley said Mitchell would discuss a range of bilateral issues with Damascus, his second visit there in as many months as the Obama administration's special envoy to the region.


"Obviously, we're trying see what Syria's prepared to do, to move toward a comprehensive (peace process) process," said Crowley, who had no further details on the trip.


Turkey has been mediating indirect talks between Syria and Israel which were cut off last December following Israel's invasion of Hamas-ruled Gaza. Turkey said earlier this week it was ready to resume mediation of those talks.


President Barack Obama has decided to return a US ambassador to Syria after Washington withdrew its envoy in 2005 to protest the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.


Mitchell is also seeking to jump-start negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis, which have been stalled for months over Jewish settlement construction.


Israel has been trying to work out a compromise on the settlement issue with Washington, linked with progress toward normalization of relations with Arab countries in the region.


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