Assad: Israel Never Asked Syria to Cut Ties With Hezbollah, Iran

Syrian president tells Lebanese columnist Israel-Syria track unrelated to other regional peace moves.

Syrian President Bashar Assad said this week that Israel has not demanded Damascus drop its ties with Hezbollah, Hamas and Iran, according to a piece released Wednesday by Lebanese columnist Jihad al-Hazan.

Al-Hazan wrote that Assad told him recently in Damascus that "the negotiations are for peace on the Syrian-Israeli track only and have no connection to the relations between Lebanon and Israel. Nobody will attack Israel from within Syrian range if a peace agreement is signed."

"If they [Israel] are discussing Hezbollah or Hamas, then that is a conversation about general peace and we would be facing a different process built on entirely different principles," al-Hazan wrote of his conversation with the Syrian leader.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said last month following reports that outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert intended to resume indirect peace talks with Syria, that Damascus must sever its ties with Iran and Hezbollah before Israel accedes to its demands.

"Before the Syrians get from us what they want, they must show through their actions that they intend to stop arming Hezbollah, and must cut ties with Iran and terrorism," she said.

Political sources in Jerusalem said recently that during the previous round of talks with Syria in 2000, Israel had demanded that Lebanon be invited to participate in the negotiations.

Al-Hazan did not say when he held the aforementioned conversation with Assad, but it apparently took place in recent weeks as Assad raised with him the political situation in Israel, in terms of weaknesses exhibited by Olmert and Livni.