Moallem: Syria willing to renew talks

Syrian FM: Israel must first "show seriousness," and Damascus "must be on alert for any Israeli attack."

Syrian soldier 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Syrian soldier 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Syria is willing to renew peace negotiations with Israel, but only "if Israel shows seriousness," the London-based daily Al-Hayat quoted Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem as saying Friday morning. The paper also said that Israel and Syria had exchanged reassuring messages amid reports of rising tensions along the northern border. Moallem, who was meeting with ambassadors from the European Union, added, however, that "We must be on alert for any Israeli attack." According to a report in the Sudanese News Agency Moallem said that Western pressure on his country would intensify and assessed that the United States might try to foment new crises and perhaps even a new war in the region. He also said that negotiations between Israel and Syria "must not come instead of the Palestinians." As the IDF maintains its high level of alert along the northern border, defense officials revealed on Thursday that in recent weeks - due to the escalation in tensions with Damascus - the air force has increased the number of times it has had to scramble jets to the border, fearing an infiltration by a Syrian aircraft. At the same time, however, intelligence officials attributed Syrian military movements near the border more to nervousness than a likelihood of conflict. And defense officials said Israel had passed a message to the Syrian military via UN forces in Syria that Israel has no offensive intentions. Nonetheless, the message said, it would respond forcefully if attacked. Defense officials said Thursday that Israel would maintain a high level of alert along the border due to an increase in tensions marked Wednesday by a report in the London-based daily Al-Quds al-Arabi, which said Syria had concentrated troops and tanks along the Lebanese border and summoned reserve forces in preparation for a possible Israeli attack. Vice Premier Haim Ramon said on Thursday that "Israel has no intention of attacking Syria." Speaking to Israel Radio, Ramon said that "the anxiety of the last few days is surprising and has no basis." "While the government is always looking to negotiate with Syria," Ramon said, "unfortunately, Syria is stuck deep in the evil axis of connections with Hizbullah." Earlier, during a visit to a high school in Arad, President Shimon Peres also declared that "We have no intention of attacking Syria - Israel is not looking to go to war, and I hear that Syria says the same." Yaakov Katz contributed to this report