Defense Minister Ehud Barak relayed a message to Syrian President Bashar Assad through Turkish President Abdullah Gul that Israel is planning to step-up military activities against Hizbullah and Hamas, the London-based newspaper, Al-Hayat, reported on Thursday. According to the report, Barak encouraged Damascus to take a different stance towards Hizbullah, and emphasized that such a move would be seen as a goodwill gesture, and could open up the possibility for peace negotiations between Israel and Syria. Turkey is considered one of Israel's closest allies in the Middle East, and an important go-between within the Muslim world. The report further claimed that the defense minister informed Turkey that Israel plans to launch a massive military operation in the Gaza Strip, while feeling out what the Turkish response might be to such an action. Barak, according to the report, requested that following the campaign, Turkey take part in an international peacekeeping coalition which would ensure the cessation of Kassam rocket fire, the report said. Other members of the potential international force would include troops from Qatar, Malaysia and Jordan. Turkey - and particularly Islamist-leaning Prime Minister Recip Erdogan - has been critical of Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip in response to continued Kassam rocket attacks against the western Negev, arguing that Israel's actions threaten to derail the peace plans laid down at the Annapolis Conference last fall. But during Barak's visit, Gul also condemned the Kassam strikes against Israeli communities. Barak's trip to Turkey - and the veiled warning, if it was made - coincided with the Damascus assassination of Hizbullah's "chief of staff" Imad Mughniyeh, an attack that many assume Israel was behind, although Prime Minister Ehud Olmert quickly denied involvement. The Defense Ministry refused to comment on the report, while associates of Barak said only that stories which derive from leaks do not merit responses.