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Russia Brings Calming Message of Syria’s Intent Toward Israel

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Syria is not planning a military strike at Israel, and Russia would not support aggression from Damascus.

This was the calming message Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov delivered this week during a visit to Israel.

“I had no impressions that the Syrians were preparing any strike against Israel,” Primakov said of his earlier stopover in Damascus.

“Russia is not going to support any party that uses force,” he told reporters in Tel Aviv on Thursday after briefing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on his round of visits earlier in the week to Syria, Lebanon and Egypt.

Primakov’s visit to Israel coincided with the fifth anniversary of the start of the Madrid peace talks co-sponsored by Russia and the United States.

His visit came two days after Foreign Minister David Levy sharply criticized the recently published comments about a possible Syrian military confrontation with Israel.

Appearing before the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Tuesday, Levy said, “If I were on the outside, I would think Israel is terrified.”

That same day, the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot suggested in an editorial that an overly fearful Israeli reaction to recent Syrian military movements near the Golan Heights could “entice” Syrian President Hafez Assad to approve a limited military strike as a means for getting negotiations between the two countries restarted.

On Thursday, after holding talks with the Russian minister, Levy said he had received important information from Primakov, but he did not give details.

When asked whether the situation with Damascus had calmed down, Levy said, “We are working on this matter.”

Despite Primakov’s encouraging words, the official Syrian media Thursday kept up its stream of accusations against Israel, saying that it was a “government of war.”

The Israeli daily Ha’aretz on Tuesday quoted a senior Israel Defense Force intelligence official as dismissing recent Syrian troop movements in Lebanon as “part of routine exercises they are holding.”

But the paper also reported that American satellites had photographed in recent weeks unusual movements of Syrian units that launch Scud surface-to-surface rockets.

Meanwhile, on the Israeli-Palestinian track, discussions about implementing the long-delayed Israeli troop redeployment in Hebron remained at a standstill at the end of a third week of intensive negotiations.

After reaching agreement on civilian issues, the sides have been trying to conclude an agreement on security arrangements for the tense West Bank town.

Yediot reported Thursday that it had obtained a copy of the emerging draft agreement on Hebron.

The paper said it appeared nearly identical to the accord signed last year by the Labor government.

Yediot said that on some points, the new accord gave the Palestinians more concessions than the old one. It said the original agreement would have given the Palestinian police 100 firearms, while the new one would allow them 210.

The pending conclusion of the negotiations has heightened tensions in Hebron, where some 450 Jewish settlers live among a Palestinian population of about 100,000.

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