'Hamas planted beach explosives'

PM and Berlusconi discuss Schalit talks, Syrian peace track.

February 3, 2010 02:21
3 minute read.
Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi

berlusconi GREAT 58. (photo credit: AP)


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Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu hinted on Tuesday that Israel will hold Hamas responsible for the barrels of explosives that washed ashore near Ashdod and Ashkelon a day earlier.

“We view very seriously the Hamas activities that came from Gaza, actions which just by coincidence did not extract a price on human life,” Netanyahu said during a press conference in Jerusalem with visiting Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. “We view this very gravely and will respond in time.”

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Netanyahu’s comments came in answer to a question about the possibility of renewed negotiations with Damascus.

“We want peace with all our neighbors, including Syria,” he said. “We have expressed more than once our interest in negotiations with Syria, without preconditions, and I discussed this with Prime Minister Berlusconi. Unfortunately, Syria and, obviously Iran, continue to supply arms to Hizbullah and Hamas.”

Berlusconi said he had a good personal relationship with Syrian President Bashar Assad, and that he would bring up the idea of renewing negotiations in talks he will have with Assad in the near future.

Berlusconi also said that he would shortly be meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

“I was a good friend Saad Hariri’s father,” he said. “I imagine I will have a good relationship with him as well, and I will relay your concerns about arms smuggling to him. We are not only talking about arms, but also missiles and rockets. We saw what happened a year ago in Gaza, and we don’t want Gaza to repeat itself in Lebanon.”

Berlusconi also said that he would do what he could to repair Israel’s ties with Turkey and its Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with whom he also enjoys a good relationship.

Regarding Turkey, Netanyahu said that the relationship was important, and that it recently had some “valleys, but not because of us.”

Both sides wanted to stabilize the relationship, because there were benefits for both sides, he said.

The bulk of the talks between Netanyahu and Berlusconi concerned Iran, according to Israeli officials.

Berlusconi, asked at the press conference about his country’s continued trade with Teheran, said there has been a reduction in trade since 2007, by about one-third. He said that the director-general of a major Italian gas company was coming to speak to Netanyahu about trade with Teheran.

“Iran is interested in getting nuclear arms,” Berlusconi said. “This is something we must pay a great deal of attention to. There can not be any apathy on this matter.”

Berlusconi said he saw it as his responsibility to Israel and the world to warn about the dangers of a nuclear Iran.

Earlier in the day, at a meeting with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Berlusconi was asked to use his good relations with Russia to encourage it to support sanctions against Iran, and to refrain from selling arms to Teheran.

Regarding talks with the Palestinians, Netanyahu reiterated his desire to begin talks immediately, and said that “if there is a will there is a way.”

He said Israel has shown that it had the will, and that now the Palestinians must do the same. Berlusconi repeated a previous offer he made to host Israeli-Palestinian talks in Italy.

Berlusconi defended Netanyahu when the later was asked about reports that his wife had intervened to quell the appointment of Alon Pinkas as Israel’s next ambassador to the UN. Berlusconi – perhaps drawing on the experience he has had recently with the Italian press and various sex scandals he has been linked to – said that this was just gossip, and that when journalists were not poisoning the wells, they were inventing stories.

Later in the press conference, it was Netanyahu who stood up for Berlusconi, who was asked a question about his wife, who last year announced she was divorcing him because of an alleged fondness for young women. “Let’s swap newspapers,” Netanyahu said.

The press conference with the two leaders followed a joint cabinet meeting between the seven cabinet ministers whom Berlusconi brought with him and their Israeli counterparts. The Italian prime minister is scheduled to address the Knesset on Wednesday, before holding talks in Ramallah with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.   

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