Indirect talks between Israel, Syria to begin within fortnight
Jerusalem officials say current summit intended to lay groundwork for extensive Turkish-mediated talks by early June, deny Israel voiced any willingness to cede Golan; reject claim talks are attempt to divert public attention from Talansky affair
The officials rejected the claims made by Syrian Foreign Affairs Minister Walid al-Mouallem, according to which Israel has expressed its willingness to cede the Golan Heights.
"The formal announcement that was issued today by Damascus, Ankara and Jerusalem, does not mention the Golan and this is not without reason. Both sides worked on this announcement for many long weeks, nothing about it is unintentional, including the omission of the Golan," they said.
A senior source said the preparatory meetings Olmert held with the envoys prior to their departure for Turkey were the reason he did not have time to meet with police investigators seeking to question him regarding the recent corruption charges made against him.
The officials rejected claims made by detractors of the talks who said Olmert was merely seeking a media spin to distract the public from the bribery affair. "Anyone who claims this is a spin would do well to bear in mind that when this important summit was scheduled some three weeks ago, no one even knew Morris Talansky's name, much less that there were charges being made against the prime minister," they said.
The breakthrough that led to the renewal of the negotiations was called 'dramatic' by the Prime Minister's Office on Wednesday: "We today have an open negotiations channel with Syria, this is a very important achievement."
'Direct talks possible if Israel earnest'
Direct peace negotiations between Syria and Israel would be possible if Israel showed seriousness in the indirect talks held in Turkey, al-Mouallem said on Wednesday.
"We hope the Israeli side would be serious about them (indirect talks) so that both sides would be able to hold direct negotiations," Mouallem told Reuters on the sidelines of a conference in the Bahraini capital.
"This is a peace process; in the past it took 10 years. Now these are indirect talks mediated by Turkey," Mouallem said of negotiations that faltered in October 2000 over the fate of the strategic Golan Heights, occupied by Israel since 1967.
Mouallem said that Damascus would not have taken any steps towards peace with Israel had the Jewish state not showed that it was willing to quit the Heights in exchange for peace.
"Without this commitment we cannot conduct any negotiation ... without this we will not move one step," Mouallem said.
Reuters contributed to this report