Erdogan, Assad talk Israel-Syria peace

Turkish president visits Damascus for first meeting with Syrian leader on reviving indirect negotiations.

In what may be a renewed attempt by Turkey to restart negotiations between Syria and Israel, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus on Wednesday. Following the meeting, Erdogan told reporters that he had arrived in the country after receiving requests to help revive the peace talks which ceased in December, after Israel launched Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip. The secret indirect peace talks between the two countries was revealed in spring 2008, under the leadership of then-prime minister Ehud Olmert. At the time, it was reported that the talks had been conducted for nearly two years. However, despite the progress, political turmoil within Israel regarding Olmert's future as prime minister, coupled with the security situation along the border with Gaza put an end to negotiations. In the beginning of 2009, tensions remained high between Jerusalem and Ankara. The feud peaked when Erdogan and President Shimon Peres engaged in a public spat during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. At the time, the Turkish president accused Israel of massacring Palestinians during the operation in Gaza. After Peres responded to the remarks, Erdogan tried to speak again, but when the moderator refused to allow further remarks, the Turkish president walked off the stage. In recent months, the relationship between Israel and Turkey has warmed a bit, with the IDF and the Turkish army participating in joint military exercises. However, while Turkey has hinted recently that they wanted both sides to return to the negotiating table under its moderation, Erdogan's visit to Damascus marks the first concrete step towards that end.