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Photo by: Ariel Harmoni / Defense Ministry
Barak: Fall of Assad would be a 'blessing' for ME
By YONI DAYAN
11/12/2011
Defense minister says Syrian regime could fall "within weeks," would be a "blow to the Iran-Hezbollah axis"; threatens that Gaza situation "can not continue"; calls for new international sanctions on Iranian regime.
 
The regime in Syria is doomed to fall “within weeks,” Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on Sunday.

Speaking at the World Policy Conference in Vienna, Barak added that Bashar Assad’s fall would be a “blessing for the Middle East” and a “blow to the Iran-Hezbollah axis.”

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“We are witnesses these days to battles between Assad-family loyalists and rebel forces. This is a continuation of the deterioration of the regime’s hold on power.

Assad has already killed over 4,000 people in the streets of Syria, and his regime is heading towards its end,” the defense minister said.

Barak reiterated his support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and declared his and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s willingness to immediately engage in direct negotiations, without conditions, with the Palestinian leadership.

However, he questioned the Palestinian commitment to compromise, saying that “Netanyahu declared a moratorium on settlement building for 10 months, and Israel does not build new settlements...

Altogether settlements take up only 2 percent of the West Bank, and therefore I don’t accept the Palestinian claim that settlements are the obstacle to negotiations.”

Barak also spoke about the recent surge in attacks from the Gaza Strip. “Since Friday, 36 rockets have been fired at Israeli towns. Israel will defend its citizens and will not allow the situation to continue,” he said.

The defense minister added that even though Israel evacuated the Gaza Strip under prime minister Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan in 2005, “Hamas has fired over 10,000 rockets at Israel.”

He said that extremist forces are actively working in Sinai, giving credence to a Jerusalem Post exclusive on Sunday that stated that Hamas has established forward bases and rocket production facilities in the peninsula, in an effort to protect them from Israeli air strikes.

Expressing his concern about Iran, Barak said the Islamic Republic is “the entire world’s problem” and called for an international effort to impose sanctions on the regime. “An Iranian nuclear weapon would change the entire Middle East and would start a regional nuclear arms race,” he said.

Speaking about Israel-Turkey relations, Barak said he regretted the loss of life in the Mavi Marmara incident, but did not regret the siege of Gaza.

According to Turkish media reports, President Abdullah Gul avoided entering the conference in Vienna at the same time as Barak. He also refused to attend a luncheon hosted by Austrian President Heinz Fisher, or take part in a group picture of leaders at the conference, because of Barak’s participation.

Barak responded by leaving the conference hall after Fisher delivered the opening address to the group, and before Gul spoke. The incidents indicate that there is still a diplomatic crisis with Turkey.

Herb Keinon and Yaakov Katz contributed to this report.
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