Likud plays down MK's Syria meeting

Party denies sending Kara to meet top Damascus official, Steinitz says figure was Syrian dissident.

Ayoub Kara 248.88 (photo credit: Knesset Web site)
Ayoub Kara 248.88
(photo credit: Knesset Web site)
Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu's office on Tuesday night stressed that it had not sent Likud's Druse MK, Ayoub Kara, to meet Syrian officials in Washington, and said it was unaware of any message transmitted to Damascus. It came after Kara, currently vying for a ministerial portfolio in the next government, confirmed in an interview on Channel 1 that he had met officials close to Syria's Alawite leaders in January. Lebanese Web sites had reported earlier in the day that a senior Likud official had met with the Syrians, but did not give a name. Kara said he was the unnamed official. He added that the meeting took place in a good atmosphere, and that surprises were likely on the Syrian front. Meanwhile, Likud MK Yuval Steinitz dismissed the significance of the meeting, telling Israel Radio on Wednesday morning that the official Kara had met with was actually exiled Syrian opposition leader Farid Ghadry. Steinitz stressed that Ghadry's citizenship had been revoked by Syria, that he was not connected to the Damascus regime and that he headed a reformist camp seeking to topple President Bashar Assad. He also noted that Ghadry had been sentenced to death in absentia. The Syrian opposition figure had visited Israel in the past, Steinitz said, and had even participated in a Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting. However, speaking to Israel Radio on Wednesday, Kara maintained that he had met a "very important official" in Syria, but said the meeting was "the Americans' initiative," not the Likud's. The Lebanese Web sites, affiliated with the anti-Syrian camp in the country, had reported that officials in the Obama administration asked Netanyahu to consider a meeting with Syrian officials, and that he sent a representative to Washington. This, according to the reports, took place in January, ahead of the February elections in Israel. On Monday, one of Netanyahu's top foreign policy advisers, former UN ambassador Dore Gold, told The Jerusalem Post that "Netanyahu has made it clear that presently he would like to focus on the Palestinian tack," rather than the Syrian one.