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(photo credit: AP)
Syrian President Bashar Assad said Thursday the current Israeli government was weak and is not prepared for a just peace with the Arabs, but cautioned that it could still wage war.
Addressing the opening of the newly elected parliament, the Syrian leader also denied direct or secret contacts with Israel and stressed the longstanding Syrian demand for withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Golan Heights in return for peace with the Jewish state.
"Israel is not ready on the official and popular level for a just and comprehensive peace, which requires strong leadership that can take decisive decisions, in addition to a mature public opinion that can push their governments in that direction," Assad said.
"Both are not available now in Israel, particularly in the presence of a weak government who is unable of taking a strategic decision (for peace)," the Syrian leader said.
But, he cautioned, "we have to be careful" because "in the history of Israel, weak governments are able to wage war."
Assad's comments came hours after Army Radio reported that an internal Foreign Ministry memo had assessed that Assad's offer to hold secret negotiations with Israel showed he was seriously seeking peace and a diplomatic arrangement.
The document said that the Syrian government would not tolerate the current situation, in which Israel continues to reject Syria's overtures towards peace, much longer. If Israel does not open negotiations with Syria, the document warned, a war could break out.
The Foreign Ministry memo comes on the heels of two professional assessments of Assad's recent gambits.
This week, the commander of the UN force deployed on Israel's border with Syria, Austrian Maj.-Gen. Wolfgang Jilke, told The Jerusalem Post that the Syrian army has not beefed up its forces on the Golan Heights.
Jilke, commander of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) responsible for maintaining the cease-fire on the Syrian-Israeli border, dismissed Israeli claims of an unprecedented military buildup within Syria.
"Within my area of responsibility, there is no military buildup," Jilke told the Post. "From my point of view there is nothing on level of strategic interest that could or would lead to concern [for Israel]." Jilke added that there was more military activity in Israel than in Syria.
On Monday, National Security Council head Ilan Mizrahi told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that Syria's move to re-initiate the peace process was authentic.
"It's not clear whether they want peace or whether they just want the peace process," he said. "They are still figuring out how it will best serve them, but the call for peace talks themselves is authentic."