Presidents Conference’s Hoenlein, Assad meet in Damascus

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WASHINGTON (JTA) — Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice president of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, met with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus.

Hoenlein said Monday that the meeting late last month was at the invitation of Syria and not, as had been reported originally by the Israeli media, at the behest of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"All I can say is that I did not go as a negotiator or mediator or with messages," Hoenlein told JTA. "I addressed humanitarian concerns."

He would not elaborate on his mission other than to say it involved the restoration of synagogues and was "for the good of the Jewish people."

"The president announced during the time we were there rehabilitation of synagogues and cemeteries," Hoenlein said, referring to Assad.

The Presidents Conference is the foreign policy umbrella for U.S. Jewish groups.

Netanyahu has refused to renew talks with Syria where they left off under his predecessor, Ehud Olmert, who had indicated that a comprehensive peace would include Israel’s return of the Golan Heights.

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