PM allays Syrian fears over drills

Olmert: "We have an interest in peace with Syria - we know each other's expectations."

olmert cabinet 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
olmert cabinet 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert used Sunday morning's cabinet meeting as a forum to send a placatory message to Syria by emphasizing that Israel was not contradicting its expressed willingness to negotiate with the country by conducting a drill in the North. "If the conditions are right, we will indeed turn towards peace," he said. The IDF Home Front Command began its largest exercises to-date on Sunday, termed "Turning Point 2." The security drills are planned to last five days, and are set to include the testing of siren systems and simulations of emergency responses to attacks and natural disasters. During the weekly cabinet meeting, Olmert emphasized Israel's intentions for the emergency drills and made clear to Damascus that the exercises ought not be taken as a 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 peace negotiations with Syria - they know what our expectations are and we know theirs," he continued. "If [the right] conditions come to fruition, we will indeed seize the opportunity." Various cabinet ministers also related to the exercise - though in a less diplomatic manner - and to reports of tensions on the northern border. "We need to prepare ourselves for a scenario in which the Home Front turns into a battlefront," said Housing and Construction Minister Ze'ev Boim. Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni stated that "Assad is not in need of this photo-op in order to know where Israel is on the map." Environmental Protection Minister Gideon Ezra said he was in favor of conducting negotiations "with all of the Arab countries, and also Hamas." On Saturday night, Defense Minister Ehud Barak's said that the northern front was "especially sensitive," while stressing that Israel had no interest in deterioration. "The other side knows this and according to our assessments they too have no interest in deterioration," he added. According to Barak, who spoke at a conference in honor of wounded soldiers from the Armored Corps, "Israel is vigilantly watching [the situation] and is prepared for any development." Israel Radio reported that Barak also discussed the Home Front Command drill, saying that "in our day and age, the preparedness of the home front is a critical component of military victory."