Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said on Thursday he was prepared to bring about a peace agreement between Israel and Syria during his term in office, according to a report in the magazine Paris Match.
Olmert told the French weekly that his top priority was reaching peace with Syria and the Palestinians, adding that no other matter was as important or urgent for the future of Israel.
He also said that if Israel and its enemies were to cease fighting and work together to build a common future, the Middle East could be turned into a paradise.
Earlier Thursday, the pan-Arab London-based daily newspaper Al Hayat reported that Turkish officials are moving to convene a three-way meeting between Israeli and Syrian representatives. The meeting would likely take place in Istabul, as Turkey continues its efforts to jump-start peace negotiations between the two countries.
Ankara would like both sides to commit to a signed declaration as a starting point for talks. According to the report, Turkey decided to postpone the proposed sit-down after the Syrians revealed Jerusalem's stated willingness to withdraw from the Golan Heights in exchange for peace. The newspaper added that the Syrian leadership was assuaged by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's refusal to deny or backtrack from the claims when word reached the news media in Israel.
Israel Radio also cited a report in the Egyptian daily Al Ahram stating that Israel has received messages from Damascus regarding the continuation of contacts between them in the near future. The newspaper quoted a Syrian official as stating that the probability of direct Israeli-Syrian negotiations taking place while President Bush remains in office remains slim, according to Israel Radio.
The United States would support a Turkish-brokered Syrian-Israeli peace drive but wants to see Damascus change its policy on Lebanon, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in remarks published on Sunday.
"We do not wish to stand in the way of any attempt to achieve peace between Israel and its neighbors including Syria," Rice told Asharq al-Awsat newspaper in remarks translated into Arabic.
"If the two sides wished to exert an effort for peace the United States would give its blessing and back these efforts. The problem is that Syria is yet to show a desire for Middle East peace especially vis-a-vis Lebanon," she added.
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