In Protest of Gaza Attacks, Syria Halts Indirect Talks With Israel

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemns Israeli attacks in Gaza as crime against humanity.

A Syrian government official said Sunday that Damascus has decided to suspend its indirect peace talks with Israel, in the wake of the mass offensive Israel launched in the Gaza Strip on Saturday, which left more than 280 Palestinians dead and scores more wounded.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said "Israel's aggression closes all the doors to any move toward a settlement in the region."

Israel and Syria held four rounds of indirect negotiations, mediated by Turkey, after the peace talks were launched in May. The talks were suspended when Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced he would step down earlier this year.

Last Monday, Syria's President Bashar Assad said he believes direct peace talks with Israel are possible and that they will eventually take place.

Meanwhile, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that he too had frozen his contacts with Olmert.

Erdogan said Sunday that the attacks in Gaza were a crime against humanity, and urged a halt to the strikes.

"To go and bomb these defenseless people, and to openly say that this operation will be a long-lasting one, that it will be this or that, to me, is a serious crime against humanity," Erdogan said at a meeting of his ruling Islamic-rooted party.

Turkey is Israel's closest ally in the Muslim world but Erdogan said he was appalled that the attacks came as his country was mediating peace talks between Syria and Israel. He said the attacks were a show of disrespect toward Turkey.

In Istanbul, some 5,000 people gathered to denounce the attacks and to pray for the Palestinians who died in the assault, the private Dogan news agency reported.

Hundreds more protested outside the Israeli embassy in Ankara and the consulate in Istanbul.

The offensive, in which more than 280 Palestinians have been killed and hundreds more were wounded, began Saturday - eight days after a six-month truce between Israel and Hamas expired.

The indirect Israeli-Syrian talks have gone through four rounds under Turkish mediation. But talks have been effectively frozen since Olmert announced his intention to resign.

Last week, Olmert visited Turkey and discussed the future of the negotiations with Erdogan.