Damascus has rejected Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's offer to hold peace talks with President Bashar Assad, Army Radio reported on Tuesday morning. Syrian parliament member Muhammad Habash said late Monday night that Damascus did not believe Olmert's overtures were serious. In an historic interview with Saudi satellite station Al Arabiya, aired by Channel 10 Monday evening, Olmert invited Assad to Jerusalem to talk.
Olmert ready to hold talks with Assad
Opinion: The Region: Getting serious about Syria
In his first appearance on a major Arabic news station in over six years, Olmert, speaking in an office adorned with the blue and white Israeli flag, told his Hebrew-speaking interviewer: "Bashar Assad, you know â€¦ I am ready to hold direct negotiations with you, and you also know that it's you who insists on speaking to the Americans. 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."
Assad has "heard many things from me already," Olmert added.
When asked where he would hold such talks with Assad, Olmert said "any place he [Assad] would agree to meet," hinting that Assad would even be welcome in Jerusalem.
Public Security Minister Avi Dichter told Army Radio that Olmert indeed wants a resumption of negotiations with Syria and his offer was "genuine and real." But Dichter was not optimistic that Assad would agree to renew the talks.
"Bashar Assad apparently has other plans than making peace with Israel," Dichter said. "And now we will listen and wait."