Blair: We'll engage Syria if it's constructive towards peace

During joint press conference with the British PM, Olmert accuses Damascus of supporting Hizbullah, Hamas; rules out releasing Barghouti.

Blair Olmert 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
Blair Olmert 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
British Prime Minister Tony Blair said on Monday that the international community was ready to engage Syria "if Syria makes a choice to be constructive towards peace." Blair spoke at a news conference with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who ruled out peace talks with Syria at the present time, accusing the Damascus government of supporting Hizbullah and Hamas.
  • Analysis: A beleaguered, bleary-eyed Blair abroad Syria has expressed willingness in recent days to restart peace talks with Israel. Olmert also said he hoped to meet with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas "very soon." He said a new committee will be formed "in the coming days" to try to reach a deal on a prisoner release and said his aides meet with Abbas' representatives "often" to discuss a "wide range of subjects." Earlier Monday, Abbas said he was eagerly awaiting a meeting with Olmert. The issue of prisoners has been a key sticking point in efforts to arrange a meeting between Olmert and Abbas. Abbas has said he wants Israel to release large numbers of Palestinian prisoners, including jailed uprising leader Marwan Barghouti. However, Olmert said the release of Barghouti - who is serving five life sentences - was "not on the agenda" at the present time. Olmert has said there can be no progress until Palestinian militants release an Israeli soldier who was captured last June. Olmert also said at the press conference that Israel would be prepared to release some of the hundreds of millions of dollars it holds in seized Palestinian tax money for humanitarian purposes. However, he ruled out a wider transfer of funds, fearing the money would make its way to militants. Israel halted the monthly transfers after Hamas was elected to power last January, citing the radical group's expressed desire for the destruction of Israel and the group's continued involvement in terrorism as the reasons for withholding the funds.