'U.S. Urges Israel, Syria to Curb Renewed Tensions'

State Department source tells A-Sharq al-Awsat that the U.S. was making efforts to see peace talks resume.

Washington has called on Israel and Syria to curb recent tensions that might make it more difficult to resume stalled peace negotiations, the London-based A-Sharq Al-Awsat reported on Friday.

State Department sources told the Arabic-language daily that the U.S. was determined to see Israel re-enter the peace process, both on the Palestinian and Syrian track.

The sources said that the new U.S. envoy to Syria was dealing with a number of issues challenging the resumption of talks, and that Washington was making efforts to see the obstacles overcome.

A top aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday that Israel wants to start talks that would culminate with a permanent peace agreement with Syria, but would continue to react against any threats to its safety.

Nir Hefetz, head of the National Information Directorate in the prime minister's bureau, said after a meeting with Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman that the two wished to emphasize their commitment to peace with Israel's neighbor to the north.

Hefetz said that Lieberman and Netanyahu wished to clarify that the "government's policy is clear, that Israel desires peace and to engage in unconditional talks with Syria."

"At the same time," Hefetz added, "Israel would continue to assertively and decisively react against any threat made against it."

Defense Minister Ehud Barak, meanwhile, relayed a message to Syria on Thursday in an attempt to calm tensions between the two countries.

Barak told senior Israel Defense Forces officers earlier this week: "Just like the familiar reality in the Middle East, we will immediately sit down [with Syria] after such a war and negotiate on the exact same issues we have been discussing with them for the past 15 years."

According to a Defense Ministry source, Barak's statements during the last week were meant for Israeli ears alone in order to emphasize the importance of peace talks, and in no way did he insinuate that Israel intended to attack Syria.

The source said that Israel was operating on several levels to make sure that misunderstandings between the two countries do not deteriorate into diplomatic tension.

Addressing a business conference at Bar-Ilan University earlier this week, Lieberman warned Syrian President Bashar Assad that if his country entered a conflict with Israel, it would not only lose, but his regime would also disintegrate.

"Assad should know that if he attacks, he will not only lose the war. Neither he nor his family will remain in power," Lieberman told the audience.

The foreign minister's remarks come after Assad on Wednesday told Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos that Israel was pushing the Middle East toward a new war.

"Our message should be that if Assad's father lost a war but remained in power, the son should know that an attack would cost him his regime," Lieberman continued. "This is the message that must be conveyed to the Syrian leader by Israel."