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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
While some Knesset members were quick to deny Tuesday's report of talks between Israel and Syria, other MKs urged the government toward such negotiations.
A report in Tuesday morning's Ha'aretz claimed to have a draft of a preliminary agreement reached between senior Israeli and Syrian officials. Several MKs who were close to former prime minister Ariel Sharon said that such talks were impossible, as the prime minister would not have accepted them.
"Sharon told me about Turkish attempts to mediate between Israel and Syria, and he told me he rejected all of them," said MK Yuval Steinitz, who also served as chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in Sharon's government. "His stance was that changing the character of the terrorist regime in Damascus was a precondition for any thoughts on peace."
MK Silvan Shalom, who was the foreign minister under Sharon, also denied being involved in such talks.
"There was only one meeting with a Syrian citizen and an envoy in 2004, and it wasn't Alon Liel. The meeting dealt with bringing Eli Cohen's bones to Israel," Shalom said.
Left-wing Knesset members were quick to respond to the report by urging the government to speed up peace talks with Syria.
"The prime minister must immediately summon Alon Liel to advance the chance of peace with Syria," said Meretz chairman MK Yossi Beilin. "Instead of issuing a pointless denial of the past, the government should be dealing with the future and advancing an agreement in the true interest of Israel."
"The information on the negotiations shows that an agreement can be reached," said MK Ran Cohen (Meretz). "All that is left is for Olmert to work courageously and take advantage of the opportunity to enter the pages of history."
MK Danny Yatom (Labor) added that even unofficial contact with Syria attested to Syria's serious interest in a peace agreement. Yatom added that it was unacceptable for Israel to reject a Syrian peace initiative at this juncture.