Olmert ready to talk
Photo: Gil Yohanan
Peres. 'They started it'
Photo: Gil Yohanan
"I'm willing to negotiate directly with the Syrians, but without preconditions," Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Wednesday during a security cabinet meeting focused on the situation on Israel's northern border.
He was responding to Housing and Construction Minister Meir Sheetrit (Kadima), who asked why the prime minister did not call for direct dialogue with Syrian President Bashar Assad.
During the meeting, the security cabinet received briefings from various officials from the Mossad, the Shin Bet, the IDF's intelligence branch and the National Security Council regarding developments in Syria and Lebanon.
Intelligence sources said that the Syrians have amassed a large amount of defensive forces, but added that "there's no sign that they are planning an attack." The sources emphasized that Hizbullah operatives constitute part of the Syrian force.
Olmert asked ministers and defense officials to refrain from making statements on the sensitive issue, which could be misunderstood by Syria. He established a sub-committee of ministers to discuss the topic further.
'Assad trying to shift focus onto Israel'The team, which includes Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni (Kadima), Vice Premier Shimon Peres (Kadima), Defense Minister Amir Peretz (Labor), Minister of Industry, Trade and Labor Eli Yishai (Shas), Minister for Strategic Affairs Avigdor Lieberman (Yisrael Beiteinu), and National Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor), drew criticism from Minister Sheetrit.
"Why establish a special ministerial committee regarding Syria?" he asked. He claimed such a committee would "send a double message" to the Syrians.
Peres responded that "in the past three wars, the Syrians initiated combat against us, not us against them. There's no precedent for them to think we will attack."
Lieberman said that "the main reason we've been hearing the things that we have from Syria is due to the establishment of an international tribunal on the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri. Assad is attempting to shift the focus onto Israel."
Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi, the IDF's Chief of Staff, said that the military is prepared for a wide range of possible scenarios on the northern border.