VIDEO - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has informed Damascus that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert agrees to fully withdraw from the Golan Heights in return for peace with Syria, the independent Damascus-based website Press Shams reported Wednesday, quoting diplomatic sources.
Video courtesy of Infolive.tv
The Prime Minister's Office declined comment Wednesday on the report, saying that "we will not comment on the said report but we can refer everyone to the prime minister's holiday interviews saying that we know what the Syrians want of us, and they know what we want of them."
Diplomatic sources in Jerusalem linked the report to the upcoming US Congress hearing regarding the North Korean bid to distribute nuclear technology.
Several days ago, Syrian President Bashar Assad confirmed Olmert's remarks that Jerusalem and Damascus were holding talks through a third party in a bid to look into resuming the negotiations between the two countries.
"There are efforts exerted in this direction. This is nothing new, and we have discussed this in the past," Assad reportedly said, expressing his objection to secret negotiations.
"Syria rejects secret (direct) talks or contacts with Israel... Anything Syria does in this regard will be announced to the public," he added.
According to Assad, "Syria takes every opportunity to express its willingness to establish just and comprehensive peace in accordance with the international decisions…
"The criterion for the acceptance of any negotiations is that they will be held seriously and that there will be a commitment to implement the UN resolutions, particularly as the Israeli side knows very well what is acceptable and unacceptable by the Syrian side."
Olmert 'well aware of what they want'
The prime minister addressed the Syrian issue in a special Passover interview with Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth. He was asked whether he was willing to declare – like former Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak – that Israel would cede the Golan Heights for peace
"I don't know what Netanyahu, Barak and Rabin said," Olmert replied. "What I can say is that I am very interested in a peace process with Syria, I've been acting on this issue and I hope that my efforts mature into something meaningful.
"I can assure you that on matters concerning Israel and the Syrians, they are well aware of what I want from them, and I know very well what they want from us."
Syrian Expatriate Affairs Minister Buthaina Shaaban said Monday that Turkey was the third party mediating in negotiations between Israel and Syria.
Speaking during an interview for the BBC network conducted in Arabic, Shaaban announced that though there has not yet been a meeting between the two countries' leaders, there have been steps taken by a "friendly third party mediator – Turkey."
Roni Sofer contributed to this report