The diplomats added that in the letter, which was sent via senior German officials, Assad offered to resume negotiations with no preconditions or a timetable.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office denied the report of a new Syrian offer for peace, stating that no letter had been received in Jerusalem from Assad through German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier or anyone else.
According to Al-Arabiya, the letter consists of a number of clauses that are meant to placate the international community: Syrian agreement on the establishment of an international tribunal to try those suspected of involvement in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on condition that the court will not be authorized to summon senior Syrian officials and army commanders; Syria’s will to discuss the future of the Golan Heights with no preconditions; Syria’s intent to act toward stabilizing its border with Iraq; act against Hamas leaders residing outside the Gaza Strip (meaning Damascus) in order to limit their influence on the group’s leaders in Gaza and prevent arms shipments to Hizbullah militants in Lebanon through Syria.
In response to the report of the letter Israeli left-wing party Meretz and the leftist 'Peace Now' organization have said they will protest in the Golan Heights this Friday for Israeli negotiations with Syria.
Reserving the military option
Amidst all this a Russian newspaper strengthens the theory that Syria is also reserving the right to a military option. Assad met with Russian president Vladimir Putin earlier on Tuesday, the newspaper reports that they may discuss the possibility of upgrading the Syrian army and deepening technological and military ties between the two countries. The paper quotes Assad's deputy, Farouk a-Shara, as saying that Damascus hopes to expand its cooperation with Russia, emphasizing that Syria is only buying weapons from Russia to maintain its defensive capabilities.
According to a-Shara, Syria is having difficulty obtaining defensive weapons due to the strict international supervision, especially from the US and Israel. Russian reports also pointed to a possible connection between Assad's visit and the visit Israeli Foreign Ministry Director General Aharon Abramovitch paid to Moscow not long ago. The reports say that Abramovitch expressed Israel's concern over the sale of Russian arms to Syria, arms which may end up in the hands of Hizbullah, this despite the fact that Moscow repeatedly denies these assumptions.
Sources for the reports could not confirm or deny estimates that the talks between Assad and Putin will involve a demand to arm Syria with advanced anti-aircraft defense technology or to upgrade the Syrian armor ranks. A Russian military commentator said that the revitalization of the Syrian army by Russian armament will be one of the primary topics on the agenda during Assad's visit to Russia. "Syria has a long list of demands because its army is outdated and Iran may shoulder some of the funding. The Syrians want to buy serious equipment to replenish their army and they are interested in anti-aircraft missiles and tank upgrades," he wrote in the newspaper.
Serious offers or media spins?
In recent days Syrian officials, including the president himself, have repeatedly called for renewing the peace process. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem even declared on Saturday that the return of the Golan Heights is no longer a pre-condition to negotiations.
In Jerusalem the Israeli leadership is still divided over how best to answer the calls from Damascus. Mossad Chief Meir Dagan said Monday in his briefing of the Knesset Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee, that there is no indication that Syria is truly pursuing peace with Israel, it only wants to ease the US and EU pressure on it.
However the IDF Intelligence branch advocated a serious examination of Syrian intentions, a position voiced by several ministers from the Labor party.
And Olmert? This week he questioned the legitimacy of moving against the official position of Washington, but assured that he will call a special session on the issue soon.