Fri, Dec 25, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Syrian president says Israel is not interested in peace

REUTERS , DAMASCUS AND GAZA, GAZA STRIP

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said on Wednesday that peace talks with Israel had stalled because Israel was not interested in achieving peace.

Israel’s demand for negotiations without conditions meant that it wanted to bring down the peace process, Assad said after talks with Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan in Damascus.

“We discussed today the ways to bring the peace process out of the deadlock that it has reached ... because of the absence of a serious Israeli partner who aims to achieve peace,” he told a joint news conference with Erdogan.

“When Israel says it wants negotiations without conditions it means it wants negotiations with no foundation. This is like having a building with no foundation, then it’s very easy to be brought down and they want to bring down the peace process,” he said.

Peace talks between Israel and Syria faltered in 2000 over Damascus’s demand for a full Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights.

Turkey last year facilitated contacts that focused on Syrian demands for a full withdrawal from the Golan Heights, and Israel’s accusations that Damascus was arming militants in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip. Those contacts failed to produce formal negotiations.

Relations between Turkey and Israel turned sour after Israel launched a three-week incursion into the Gaza Strip last December and Erdogan said Israel no longer trusted Turkey to mediate peace talks with Syria.

On Wednesday, Erdogan reiterated that Turkey remained committed to mediating peace talks.

Meanwhile, a German mediator on Wednesday gave Hamas Israel’s response to a proposed swap freeing hundreds of jailed Palestinians for captured soldier Gilad Shalit, and the Islamist group said it would need days to review the new draft.

Signalling a possible breakthrough, a Hamas official said he expected the group to send a delegation from the Gaza Strip to Damascus yesterday to meet exiled Hamas leaders.

Israeli Security Minister Eli Yishai reiterated Israel’s misgivings over a prisoner amnesty likely to boost Hamas.

“We always say ‘not at any price’ because otherwise our enemies would exploit it. But on the other hand, we have to make every possible effort,” Yishai told Israel’s Army Radio. “Where is the middle ground? I think any further [public] words about this would be excessive.”

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