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Assad rejects direct negotiations with Israel

PARIS (JTA) — Syrian President Bashar Assad rejected an offer to meet directly with Israeli leaders during a visit to Paris.

In response to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s offer to meet with Assad “at any time, anywhere,” Assad told French reporters last Friday that he would only negotiate with Israel through mediators such as Turkey.

Assad accused Israel of refusing to “be a partner ready to move forward and ready to achieve results.”

“If Mr. Netanyahu is serious, he can send his team of experts, and we’ll send ours, to Turkey, and they can talk if they are really interested,” Assad said.

Assad met last Friday with French President Nicolas Sarkozy two days after Netanyahu visited the French capital.

During his meetings with both Assad and Netanyahu, Sarkozy offered to host an international summit to start up the stalled peace process in the Middle East, according to the Israeli daily Ha’aretz.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Sunday that Israel was interested in renewing peace negotiations with Syria, Ha’aretz reported.

In an interview with Assad published last Friday in the French daily Le Figaro, the Syrian leader said he hoped the United States would be a more active negotiator for peace in the Middle East and accused the Obama administration of not providing a clear "executive plan" toward that end.

“The weak point is the American sponsor,” Assad said. “The sponsor has to elaborate a plan of action" rather than simply "an exchange of points of view."

In the same interview, Assad accused Israel of “probably lying” about an Israeli-seized Iranian shipment of weapons, which Israelis believe was intended for Hezbollah.

“What is the proof that these weapons were destined for Hezbollah?” Assad asked. “The question is whether Israel has the right to commit this act of piracy.”
 

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