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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Israel is not interested in opening a military front against Syria, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told reporters on Tuesday during a press conference in Kiryat Shmona. But she warned that Syria must understand that the days in which it used Hizbullah as a means to attack Israel from Lebanon or to intervene in the country's affairs were over.
"Syria needs to decide what path it wants to take," Livni said. "Lebanon is now moving in a different direction without them."
She added that there is international consensus in this regard. "There is international agreement regarding the role Syria played until today and the change it has to make in order to be accepted by the international community and to play a more positive role," Livni said.
As a result, she added, "I hope that the face of the region has really changed."
The Prime Minister's Office released a statement saying that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert opposed negotiations with Syria because the country was part of the "axis of evil."
Livni spoke a short time after Syrian President Bashar Assad said the US aspiration to build a "new Middle East" was an "illusion" that was shattered by Hizbullah's success in fighting Israel. But Livni said she hoped that the terms of the cease-fire, including the removal of Hizbullah from southern Lebanon, would bode well for a "new Middle East."
This is not something that would happen immediately, she said. "I do not think that tomorrow there will be a new Middle East here. It will take time, but there is a chance and we have to work so that this chance will turn into reality. If it does we have changed the face of the region."
Livni said the international community has an important role to play in eliminating the threat from Hizbullah by ensuring the UN Security Council resolution that calls for the deployment of an international force along the Lebanese-Israeli border is put in place.
"The future of the region depends on the international community, not only on the Israeli government and the Lebanese government," she said. "If the international community takes the right steps to send robust and effective forces to assist the Lebanese government in its deployment to the south of Lebanon... then we have a chance."
In the future, Livni said, Hizbullah can exist as a political party but not as an independent army.
She spoke in support of the cease-fire and in support of diplomatic initiatives as the next step needed to secure the northern border. On that score, she said, she recognizes the dangers of allowing Syria and Iran to operate in Lebanon through Hizbullah.
"There are things that even the best army cannot do," Livni said.
Livni said diplomatic channels presented the best opportunity for Israel to bring home the two soldiers, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, who were kidnapped by Hizbullah on July 12. "The military operation cannot bring them home. It doesn't matter if it would have lasted for another month or a year or two."
"The decision to fight until their release was not the correct decision," Livni said. She spoke with both families on Sunday and said she plans to discuss the fate of the soldiers when she meets with United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan in New York this week.
Gil Hoffman and AP contributed to this report.