Assad confirms contacts with Israel

In meeting with Baath Party officials, says messages exchanged regarding resumption of peace talks.

assad 224.88 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
assad 224.88 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
Syrian President Bashar Assad said Sunday that he has exchanged messages with Israel through a third party to explore the possibility of resuming peace talks, the country's official news agency SANA reported. During a meeting with ruling Baath Party officials, Assad commented on media reports about indirect contact between the two countries. "There are efforts exerted in this direction," he was quoted as saying. An Israeli newspaper, Yediot Ahronot, on Thursday quoted Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as saying Israel and Syria have been exchanging messages to clarify expectations for any future peace treaty. He didn't disclose the content of the messages or provide other details about the contacts. The paper quoted Olmert as saying, "They know what we want from them, and I know full well what they want from us." Assad echoed those comments on Sunday, saying Israel "knows well what is accepted and not accepted by Syria." "Syria rejects secret (direct) talks or contacts with Israel... Anything Syria does in this regard will be announced to the public," Assad was quoted as saying. Negotiations broke off in 2000 after Syria rejected Israel's offer to return the Golan Heights, which it captured in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed. Syria wanted Israel to withdraw to the prewar line on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. But Israel wasn't prepared to give up any control of the lake that provides about half of the country's drinking water. Despite the peace overtures, tensions have been high between the two countries in recent months, largely stemming from an alleged IDF air strike on a Syrian military facility in September. Some foreign reports have said the target was a nuclear installation Syria was building with North Korean assistance. Damascus denies having an nuclear program, and North Korea says it was not involved in any such project. Syria did not retaliate for the attack. Both Syria and Israel have expressed a willingness to renew talks since Israel's war against the Lebanese-based Hizbullah in 2006. Olmert has insisted that if Syria is serious about peace, Damascus must withdraw its support for Hizbullah and the Palestinian group Hamas.