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Sunday, January 21, 2007

EU official in secret Syria talks met with PM's chief of staff

Last update - 07:50 21/01/2007   

EU official in secret Syria talks met with PM's chief of staff
By Akiva Eldar, Haaretz Correspondent

The senior European official who was involved in secret talks between Israel and Syria held a long meeting with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's chief of staff, Yoram Turbowicz, during the second Lebanon war.
The Prime Minister's Bureau confirmed the meeting last night, but said that neither the talks between former Foreign Ministry director general Alon Liel and a Syrian representative nor the understandings they reached were mentioned.
Before the meeting, the European official visited Damascus several times with Syrian-American businessman Ibrahim Suleiman, who was the Syrian representative in the talks with Liel. Their last meeting took place 10 days after the war began.
Meretz faction chair Zahava Gal-On has asked the Knesset Presidium to approve Liel's invitation to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee to discuss the meetings and the understandings drafted in them.
Geoffrey Aaronson, the American involved in the meetings, was quoted last Tuesday in Haaretz's report on the secret talks with Syria as saying that under an American-sponsored agreement with Israel, Syria would make sure that Hezbollah became a purely political party and that Khaled Meshal of Hamas left Damascus. Syria would also help reach a settlement in Iraq and help Israel solve the Palestinian problem, he said.
In a series of covert meetings held in Europe from September 2004 to July 2006, Liel and Suleiman drafted understandings for a Syrian-Israeli peace agreement. These included an Israeli agreement to pull out of the Golan to the pre-1967 lines; a joint Israeli-Syrian park that would be built along Lake Kinneret as a buffer zone; Israeli control over the use of the Jordan River headwaters and the Kinneret; and demilitarized areas on both sides of the border, with the one on the Syrian side being four times larger than the Israeli on.
In an interview with the Ynet Internet site over the weekend, Suleiman said that the European official offered Turbowicz "a confidence-building measure" that had been prepared by himself, European and Syrian officials. "This was a critical thing, a confidence-building measure ... The Israelis would have loved it. They would have celebrated it. Olmert's deputy said yes, then a week later he sent an email that said: 'No, we've changed our minds.'"
He said that it was something of which Israelis never dreamed and would have cost them nothing.
Suleiman said that a week after the meeting with Turbowicz, the European mediator received an email saying that Olmert was not interested in the initiative. "For some reason beyond my understanding, the Americans don't want peace between Syria and Israel," he continued. "Syria is trying and I'm trying, but damn it, there's a limit to how much we can give." `

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