Syria dismisses Olmert offer to hold peace talks

Syria has rejected Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's offer to hold peace talks with President Bashar Assad. Damascus does not believe Olmert's overtures are serious, Syrian parliament member Muhammad Habash said late Monday night. In an interview with Saudi satellite station Al Arabiya, aired by Channel 10 Monday evening, Olmert invited Assad to Jerusalem for talks. "Bashar Assad, you know… I am ready to hold direct negotiations with you, and you also know that it's you who insists on speaking to the Americans," Olmert told his Hebrew-speaking interviewer. "The American president says: 'I don't want to stand between Bashar Assad and Ehud Olmert.' If you want to talk, sit down and talk." Asked where talks with Assad would take place, Olmert said, "Any place he would agree to meet," hinting that Assad would even be welcome in Jerusalem. Olmert's offer was "genuine and real," Public Security Minister Avi Dichter told Army Radio. But he was not optimistic Assad would agree. "Bashar Assad apparently has other plans than making peace with Israel," Dichter said. "And now we will listen and wait." Assad has called for the reopening of peace talks with Israel, but Olmert has accused the Syrian leader of wanting only to win favor with the United States. Olmert has called on Assad to stop sponsoring terrorist groups opposed to Israel's existence, including Hizbullah and Hamas, if he is serious about peace with Israel. Asked about an apparent softening in Olmert's position on Syria, Dichter said that Israel had not formed a firm position regarding Syria but would if the matter became more relevant.