PM and Berlusconi discuss Schalit talks, Syrian peace track.
By HERB KEINON
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu hinted on Tuesday that Israel willhold Hamas responsible for the barrels of explosives that washed ashorenear 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 humanlife,” Netanyahu said during a press conference in Jerusalem withvisiting Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. “We view this verygravely and will respond in time.”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. “Wehave expressed more than once our interest in negotiations with Syria,without preconditions, and I discussed this with Prime MinisterBerlusconi. Unfortunately, Syria and, obviously Iran, continue tosupply arms to Hizbullah and Hamas.”Berlusconi said he had a good personal relationship with SyrianPresident Bashar Assad, and that he would bring up the idea of renewingnegotiations 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.Advertisement“I was a good friend Saad Hariri’s father,” he said. “I imagine I willhave a good relationship with him as well, and I will relay yourconcerns about arms smuggling to him. We are not only talking aboutarms, but also missiles and rockets. We saw what happened a year ago inGaza, and we don’t want Gaza to repeat itself in Lebanon.”Berlusconi also said that he would do what he could to repair Israel’sties with Turkey and its Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with whomhe 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 continuedtrade with Teheran, said there has been a reduction in trade since2007, by about one-third. He said that the director-general of a majorItalian gas company was coming to speak to Netanyahu about trade withTeheran.“Iran is interested in getting nuclear arms,” Berlusconi said. “This issomething we must pay a great deal of attention to. There can not beany 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 AvigdorLieberman, Berlusconi was asked to use his good relations with Russiato encourage it to support sanctions against Iran, and to refrain fromselling arms to Teheran.Regarding talks with the Palestinians, Netanyahu reiterated his desireto begin talks immediately, and said that “if there is a will there isa way.”He said Israel has shown that it had the will, and that now thePalestinians must do the same. Berlusconi repeated a previous offer hemade to host Israeli-Palestinian talks in Italy.Berlusconi defended Netanyahu when the later was asked about reportsthat his wife had intervened to quell the appointment of Alon Pinkas asIsrael’s next ambassador to the UN. Berlusconi – perhaps drawing on theexperience he has had recently with the Italian press and various sexscandals he has been linked to – said that this was just gossip, andthat when journalists were not poisoning the wells, they were inventingstories.Later in the press conference, it was Netanyahu who stood up forBerlusconi, who was asked a question about his wife, who last yearannounced she was divorcing him because of an alleged fondness foryoung women. “Let’s swap newspapers,” Netanyahu said.The press conference with the two leaders followed a joint cabinetmeeting between the seven cabinet ministers whom Berlusconi broughtwith him and their Israeli counterparts. The Italian prime minister isscheduled to address the Knesset on Wednesday, before holding talks inRamallah with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
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