Turkey's chief rabbi met with Syrian President Bashar Assad recently, and exchanged a handshake and a warm greeting with him. In an interview with Ynet later, he described the leader as "nice".
Yitzhak Haliba, 69, has been chief rabbi of Turkey since 2002. He was summoned by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to an Istanbul hotel on Wednesday for a special dinner with Assad, in honor of the latter's visit to the country.
Other religious officials were in attendance, namely the Christian and Armenian patriarchs and the Muslim mufti, representing the country's main sectors.
After the meal, which marked the end of the Ramadan fast, Assad and the prime minister both made speeches.
"I shook Assad's hand when each of us religious officials presented ourselves to him. He told me, 'You know, in Syria there is also a Jewish community.' I answered that certainly I know – we are the ones who provide them with religious services when they need them, like a mohel or a butcher," Haliba said.
"Assad was nice. We are all human beings. When people talk amongst themselves and pour their problems out at a table, you get along better. There is a willingness to lend an ear and everyone listens to each other," he added.
"I, as a religious official, do not involve myself in political matters. The prime minister of Turkey summoned me, so I came. I arrived there as a representative of Turkey; it's not a political matter, nor did it offend my Zionist principles. I told him we wanted peace and asked him to make peace with Israel."