(photo credit: AP [file])
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert wants the US-sponsored November peace conference to focus on Israeli-Palestinian relations and not Israel's conflict with Syria, an Israeli government official said Tuesday, probably ruling out Syrian participation.
Olmert made the comments in a meeting Monday with Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan in Jerusalem. Babacan pressed the prime minister to open talks with Syria as well, but Olmert responded by saying he wished to give his full attention to the Palestinian front and thought it unwise to include other topics as well, according to a senior Israeli government official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the talks.
The conference is expected to be held in Annapolis, Maryland, in mid-to late-November to provide the foundation for peace talks to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The US has invited Syria, but Syrian President Bashar Assad has made it clear his country would not attend if the conference did not address the Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War war.
Olmert said he would be pleased if the Syrians attended the meeting to support an Israeli-Palestinian peace effort, but peace talks between Israel and Syria were still premature.
Tensions have been particularly high between Israel and Syria since Israel attacked a military target in Syria on Sept. 6. Israel and the United States have repeatedly criticized Syria for its support for Hizbullah and Palestinian militant groups and its close ties to Iran.
Foreign media reports, quoting unidentified US officials, have speculated that Israeli planes attacked a weapons shipment destined for Hizbullah guerrillas in Lebanon, or hit a nuclear facility built with North Korean technology.
North Korea, which provides missile technology to Syria, has denied any nuclear link. Syria also has denied receiving North Korean nuclear help.