MK Zahalka: I was in Syria, they want peace
Arab Knesset member, who visited Damascus four months ago, says there are no relations between two countries. According to him, Syria is interested in peace. Members of coalition during period talks were held, according to Haaretz, also deny report. Left calls on government to advance negotiations
According to the MK, to the best of his knowledge no direct or indirect talks were being held between Israel and Syria.
"There is complete silence in the relations. There is no mediation whatsoever," he said.
MK Zahalka added that the Syrians believe that as long as George W. Bush serves as the US president, there will be no progress in the relations between Israel and Damascus.
"The Syrians believe that the American policy is to prevent negotiations between Israel and Syria. The problem is not the agreement – the agreement has already been formulated from other periods when there were relations with Syria – but rather the readiness to enter negotiations.
According to Zahalka, Syrian President Bashar Assad is willing to launch negotiations because "Syria is interested in peace."
MK Zahalka added that the Syrians "say the agreement was almost finalized when Ehud Barak was prime minister. If an agreement had been signed with Syria, the recent war in Lebanon wouldn’t have erupted, but Barak preferred a unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon in order to evade the agreement with Syria, and Damascus, to put it mildly, was unenthusiastic over the unilateral withdrawal."
MK Shalom: No secret talks held
Members of the coalition during the period the talks were held, according to the report, also denied the publication.
Former Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom (Likud) said that he was not familiar with the move reported.
"There was only one meeting with the Syrian citizen in 2004 by a representative I sent, and it was not (former Foreign Ministry Director-General) Alon Liel. The meeting dealt with bringing (Israeli spy) Eli Cohen's bones to Israel."
MK Yuval Steinitz (Likud) also denied the report. According to him, "Sharon told me about the Turkish attempts to mediate between Israel and Syria, and told me that he rejected all of them. His stance was that changing the character of the terrorist regime in Damascus is a precondition for any thoughts on peace."
Left-wing MKs, on the other hand, said that an agreement with Syria could be reached. According to MK Ran Cohen (Meretz), "The information on the negotiations with Syria shows that an agreement can be reached.
"The public has now been exposed to the fact that everything is ready and prepared and that all that is left for Olmert is to act courageously, manifest his leadership and take advantage of this golden opportunity in order to enter the pages of history."
Meretz Chairman Yossi Beilin added, "The prime minister must immediately summon Alon Liel in order to advance the chance for peace with Syria. Instead of dealing with insignificant denials about the past, the government must deal with future and advance an agreement which is Israel's real interest."
Neta Sela, Miri Chason, Ronny Sofer and Attila Somfalvi contributed to the report