'Turkey to step in again as mediator'

Turkey to step in again

The Egyptian Al Ahram newspaper reported Saturday that Israeli-Syrian peace talks would resume in the first half of 2010 with Turkish mediation. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is scheduled to arrive in Damascus on December 22, and according to the Egyptian report. While there Erdogan will reportedly present Syrian President Bashar Assad with a change in the Israeli position and a recent willingness in Jerusalem to allow the Turks to mediate peace negotiations. A Syrian diplomat told Al Ahram that the talks will resume in the first half of 2010 and that they would resume from where they left off when Turkey cut off mediation efforts in the wake of Israel's Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip last winter. Turkish criticism over the operation and remarks by Erdogan in several forums incensed Israel in the past few months. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on several occasions that Turkey could "no longer serve as an honest mediator" between Israel and Syria. Assad, on the other hand, stated on several occasions that Ankara "has proven itself as trustworthy and capable." Israel Radio quoted Jerusalem officials as saying they were not aware of any change in the Israeli position. France or the United States, the sources said, were more likely to step in instead of Turkey as mediators in Syria-Israeli talks. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, on several occasions, said he was willing to negotiate with Syria directly, without mediation. The Syrians have so far insisted on conducting indirect negotiations.