The Prime Minister’s Office neither confirmed nor denied a report in a London-based pan-Arabic newspaper saying that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu paid a secret visit to Jordan recently, apparently to discuss the situation in Syria.

“We are not relating to the report,” a spokesman in the Prime Minister’s Office said of the story in Al-Quds Al- Arabi that indicated Netanyahu met with Jordanian King Abdullah II and claimed the focus of the trip was concern about the possible use of chemical weapons by Syria’s beleaguered President Bashar Assad.

Senior officials quoted in the Israeli media confirmed the visit Wednesday night.

In recent weeks, Netanyahu has expressed strong concern about Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles, saying that Jerusalem was in close coordination with the US and others in the international community regarding the problem. Jordan is believed to be one of the countries with which Israel is consulting about the matter.

The Arabic paper’s article followed by about three weeks a report by The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg who quoted intelligence officials “in two countries” as saying Israel proposed twice to the Jordanian government a plan to “take out many of Syria’s chemical weapons sites.”

He said the Jordanians have so far turned down the Israeli requests, quoting an official as saying this was both because of concern of the fallout on Jordan, since some of the chemical sites are near the Jordanian border, and also concern that Syria might suspect Jordanian complicity in any such Israeli attack.

Al-Quds Al-Arabi
did not say way when Netanyahu’s visit to Jordan took place. If true, it would not be the first time the prime minister has paid a secret visit to the Hashemite Kingdom, having gone there secretly at least two times to meet Abdullah since taking office in 2009.

Intense international concern about the stockpile of chemical weapons in Syria comes as the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights issued a report on Wednesday saying some 45,000 people have been killed since the anti-Assad revolt began in March 2011.

Assad on Wednesday sent a senior diplomat to Moscow to discuss proposals to end the conflict convulsing his country made by international envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, Syrian and Lebanese sources said.

Brahimi, who met with Assad on Monday and plans to hold a series of meetings with Syrian officials and dissidents in Damascus this week, is trying to broker a peaceful transfer of power, but has disclosed little about how this might be done.

Past peace efforts have floundered, with world powers divided over what has become an increasingly sectarian struggle between mostly Sunni rebels and Assad’s security forces, drawn primarily from his Shi’ite-rooted Alawite minority.

Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Makdad flew to Moscow to discuss the details of the talks with Brahimi, said a Syrian security source, who would not say if a deal was in the works.

A Lebanese official close to Damascus said, however, that Makdad had been sent to seek Russian advice on a possible agreement.

He said Syrian officials were upbeat after talks with Brahimi, who met with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moualem on Tuesday, but who has not outlined his ideas in public.

“There is a new mood now and something good is happening,” the Lebanese official said, asking not to be named. He gave no details.

Russia, which has given Assad diplomatic and military aid to help him weather the uprising, has said it is not protecting him, but has fiercely criticized any foreign backing for rebels and, with China, has blocked UN Security Council action on Syria.

A Russian Foreign Ministry source said Makdad and an aide would meet Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Mikhail Bogdanov, the Kremlin’s special envoy for Middle East affairs, on Thursday, but did not disclose the nature of the talks.

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Syrian army shelling killed about 20 people, at least eight of them children, in the northern province of Raqqa, a video posted by opposition campaigners showed.

Rebels relaunched their assault on the Wadi Deif military base in the northwestern province of Idlib, in a battle for a major army compound and fuel storage and distribution point.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which uses a network of contacts in Syria to monitor the conflict, said a rebel commander was among several people killed in Wednesday’s fighting, which it said was among the heaviest for months.

The military used artillery and air strikes to try to hold back rebels assaulting Wadi Deif and the town of Morek in Hama province further south. In one air raid, several rockets fell near a field hospital in the town of Saraqeb, in Idlib province, wounding several people, the Observatory said.

As violence has intensified in recent weeks, daily death tolls have climbed. The Observatory reported at least 190 had been killed across the country on Tuesday alone.

The head of Syria’s military police changed sides and declared allegiance to the anti- Assad revolt.

“I am General Abdelaziz Jassim al-Shalal, head of the military police. I have defected because of the deviation of the army from its primary duty of protecting the country and its transformation into gangs of killing and destruction,” the officer said in a video published on YouTube.

A Syrian security source confirmed the defection, but said Shalal was near retirement and had only defected to “play hero.”

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