Deputy FM: Assad just wants peace process, not peace
Ayalon's comments come after Syrian President said no partner in Israel for peace negotiations.
Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon said Saturday that Syrian President Bashar Assad was only interested in conducting a peace process with Israel, instead of actually reaching a peace accord.
"The Syrian President fully realizes that the price of peace would be opening up to the West, which is a threat to the stability of his regime," said Ayalon during a lecture in Be'er Sheva.
"However, by engaging in a peace process, he believes he would be able to extricate Syria from the international isolation it's currently subject to."
Ayalon's comments came after Assad said Friday he could not set a date for resuming indirect peace talks with Israel because there was no one on the other side with whom to negotiate.
"We cannot talk about a date [for resuming the talks] because we don't have a partner," Assad said during a joint press conference with Turkish President Abdullah Gul in the Syrian capital, Damascus.
But he added that "Syria is keen about peace as much as it is keen about the return of its occupied territories." Assad was referring to the Golan Heights, which Israel captured during the 1967 Six-Day War.
The Syrian leader also said Israel's three-week-long offensive against Hamas in Gaza had prevented the Turkish-mediated talks from moving to a direct phase. The negotiations were formally suspended during the campaign, which halted in January.
Assad's Turkish counterpart, meanwhile, urged Israel on Friday to work toward resuming the peace talks, and said Ankara was ready to continue its role as a mediator between the two parties.
"Israel has to show clearly it is a partner," said Gul.
"We have heard Syria say it is ready to resume the peace talks from the point where they stopped with the previous [Israeli] government. We in Turkey are also ready," Gul added, speaking through a translator.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a group of Russian journalists last week that Israel will not withdraw from the Golan because of its strategic military value.
Syrian officials have refrained from responding to Netanyahu's remarks. They also ignored statements last month by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman that Israel would talk peace with Syria only if it did not set preconditions or ultimatums.
Netanyahu was involved in U.S.-supervised talks between Syria and Israel during his previous term as prime minister in the 1990s.
The talks, which lasted almost 10 years, collapsed in 2000 when Assad's father, the late President Hafez Assad, refused an Israeli offer to withdraw from the Golan but keep several hundred meters on the northeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee.