(photo credit: AP [file])
Hours after visiting Damascus and pledging that Ankara would not let Israel use Turkish airspace to strike at Syria, visiting Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan told President Shimon Peres Sunday that he wanted details of the Israel Air Force raid last month on a Syrian target near the Turkish border.
Turkey has said it found fuel tanks allegedly dropped in its territory by IAF warplanes during the September 6 raid, a development Babacan has called unacceptable.
"During my visit to Israel, I'm expecting an explanation of what happened and why it happened," Babacan said at a joint press conference in Jerusalem after meeting Peres.
"We have not yet got an answer," Babacan said, before Peres intervened to halt further questioning by reporters.
"I suggest not to go into too many details," Peres said.
Babacan also told Peres that Syria would be interested in taking part in the upcoming US-sponsored Middle East conference if the Golan Heights were also on the agenda.
"I encouraged the [Syrian] leaders to take part in Bush's international conference, and they told me clearly that Syria was interested in the Israeli-Syrian issue also being on the negotiating table," Babacan told Peres, according to Beit Hanassi.
Peres replied that Israel was interested in a peace agreement with Syria, if Syrian President Bashar Assad was "serious." But, Peres said, Syria was playing a double game: on the one hand saying they wanted peace, but on the other hand being an Iranian satellite state, supporting world terrorism and backing Hizbullah and the downfall of the government in Lebanon.
Babacan arrived in Israel on Sunday afternoon after meeting Assad.
"Turkey will not let Turkish territory or airspace be used in any activity that could harm the security or safety of Syria," Babacan said after that meeting.
Babacan said he had chosen Syria as his first destination abroad after being named foreign minister in August to underline the importance of maintaining strong Turkish-Syrian ties.
The minister, a member of the Islamist-rooted AK party, repeated Turkey's assertions that Ankara had no prior knowledge of the IAF air strike.
Babacan, who arrived in Damascus on Saturday, also delivered a message from Turkish President Abdullah Gul to Assad on Sunday. Babacan said the talks were constructive and useful.
He warned that the region was passing through a very delicate and sensitive stage, particularly in Iraq, the Palestinian Authority and Lebanon.
Babacan also met Sunday with Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, and brought Peres an invitation from Gul to visit Turkey.
Diplomatic officials said that at each of the Turkish foreign minister's meetings in Jerusalem - in addition to discussing Syria, Iran, Iraq and the diplomatic process with the Palestinians - he also discussed the resolution scheduled to come before the US House Foreign Affairs Committee this week that would declare the World War I-era killing of Armenians a genocide.
According to the officials, Babacan asked for Israel's support in defeating the resolution. In years past, Jewish groups in Washington lobbied against the resolution. But this year, the Anti-Defamation League - while not supporting the congressional resolution - did reverse its position on the matter and declare that events from that period were "tantamount to genocide."
Peres praised Turkey during his meeting with Babacan as an example for the entire Muslim world - a country that is Muslim, democratic and modern, and which seeks peace and cooperation with its neighbors.
Babacan, according to Peres's office, said that "this is a critical period for the region, and I want to stress that Israel is important to Turkey, and there are very good relations between the two countries."
Babacan is scheduled to meet Monday with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Likud head Binyamin Netanyahu. He will also head to Ramallah for meetings with PA President Mahmoud Abbas and PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad.
AP contributed to this report.