peres smiles 298.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Nearly two weeks after Israel's alleged bombing raid inside Syria, the tension between the two countries is subsiding, President Shimon Peres told foreign journalists on Tuesday.
"The nervousness in the relations between Syria and ourselves is over," Peres said, following Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's remarks the day before that he "respects" Syrian President Bashar Assad and was ready for negotiations with Damascus without preconditions.
Peres addressed Olmert's statements, saying the prime minister was "sincere and serious" about restarting negotiations.
"Why go back to the rumors and speculation? We say clearly that we are ready to negotiate directly with Syria for peace," Peres said, adding that these negotiations should be held without intermediaries.
In a related development, defense officials paradoxically explained a week-long brigade-level IDF exercise that began in the Golan that begins soon as a further indication that tensions with Syria have subsided.
The exercise will include helicopters, tanks and Engineering Corps forces.
Had the tension with Damascus still been at a fever pitch, the officials explained, Israel would not have held the exercise there so as not to risk a Syrian misinterpretation of the maneuver as a menacing Israeli buildup.
A few weeks before the alleged IAF flights over Syria, the IDF began reducing the number of troops in the Golan Heights in an effort to alleviate Syrian fears that Israel was planning a surprise attack. In addition, Syrian officials said last week that European diplomats had brought messages from Jerusalem to Damascus saying that Israel did not plan on attacking Syria and was in the process of lowering its alert level and troop presence along the northern border.
Throughout the past year, the IDF has kept a strong presence of troops in the Golan Heights - some of them training - as part of its beefed-up deployment due to fears of a possible Syrian attack.
Defense officials said Tuesday that the IDF Foreign Liaison Office in the Northern Command had asked the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) deployed on both sides of the Israeli-Syrian border to update Damascus on the upcoming exercise.
The officials explained that UNDOF was regularly updated on large-scale IDF training exercises in the Golan Heights and asked to relay messages to the Syrian military.
"This is something we do all the time," an official explained. "This is done to prevent misunderstandings."
Greer Fay Cashman contributed to this report.