Olmert to Syria: This is just an exercise

Olmert used this morning's meeting as a forum to send a placatory message to the northern neighbor by emphasizing that Israel is not contradicting itself by preparing drills- "if the conditions are right we will indeed turn towards peace." The IDF Homefront Command began the largest exercises to-date on Sunday, termed "Turning point 2". The security drills are planned to last five days, including the testing of siren systems and simulations or emergency responses to attacks and natural disasters. During the weekly government meeting, Olmert emphasized Israel's intentions for the emergency preparedness drills and made clear to Damascus that these actions ought not be taken as provocation, reiterating his desire that Syria understand this message. "The State of Israel is not seeking violent confrontation in the north," Olmert stated. "We've said it more than once that we have an interest in the existence of peace negotiations with Syria- they know what our expectations are and we know theirs," Olmert continued. "If conditions come to fruition, we will indeed turn seize the opportunity." Various governmental ministers also in attendance at the session related this morning, though in a less diplomatic manner, to the exercise and to reports of tensions on the northern border. "The Syrians quietly settling, we need to prepare ourselves for a scenario in which the homefront turns to be battlefront," related Ze'ev Boim. Meanwhile Foreign minister Livni stated that "Assad is not in need of this photo-op in order to know where Israel is on the map." While Minister of Environmental Protection Gideon Ezra said he was in favor of conducting negotiations "with all of the Arab countries, and also Hamas."