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Syria Ready For Israel Talks, Prepared For War December 16, 2006

Posted by notapundit in Main, World News.
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ROME (AP)–Syria is ready to hold peace talks with Israel, but is also preparing for the possibility of a war with the Jewish state, Syrian President Bashar Assad said, according to an interview published Friday in an Italian newspaper.

Assad called on Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to consider Syria’s offer to discuss peace in exchange for territorial concessions, Rome-based daily La Repubblica reported.

“I say to Olmert: make an attempt. Call our bluff,” he was quoted as saying. “The Syrian people are united on this: Reach peace to get back our lands,” he said in a reference to the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

A U.N. General Assembly resolution in September demanded Israel withdraw from this territory, which it annexed from Syria in 1967. The U.S. opposes the resolution, contending it prejudges the outcome of negotiations between Israel and Syria.

Despite his call for dialogue, Assad also said Syria expects Israel could launch a war against it “at any moment,” according to the interview.

“War is always possible in our region. It is natural to prepare (for it),” he was quoted as telling the newspaper. However, he dismissed as “inexact” recent reports his country is massing missiles on the border with Israel, according to the interview.

Assad also sought to downplay Syria’s backing of Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon, saying that his country holds influence on the Shiite group, but doesn’t interfere in Lebanese affairs.

“Don’t you see that Hezbollah is backed by a large part of the Lebanese population? It is wrong to portray it as a Syrian or Iranian puppet. Hezbollah has its own interests, its own vision. They trust us, so we can influence them,” he was quoted as saying in the interview. “We never lost our influence in Lebanon. But it is not interference.”

On Friday, European Union leaders at a summit in Brussels urged Syria to stop meddling in Lebanon and to help stabilize the country gripped for weeks by Hezbollah-led protests that have confined the Lebanese prime minister to his Beirut office.

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