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Thursday, January 11, 2007

MKs, Syrian officials sit together as Madrid meet begins

Last update - 12:37 11/01/2007   

MKs, Syrian officials sit together as Madrid meet begins
By Akiva Eldar, Haaretz Correspondent

MADRID - A conference commemorating the 15-year anniversary of the historic 1991 Madrid Peace Conference is underway in the Spanish capital, with the participation of both Israeli and Syrian officials.
Two senior officials of the Syrian government and an Israeli delegation comprised of MKs and former ministers arrived in Madrid on Wednesday to participate in the conference.
The Syrian delegation is refusing to meet with Israeli reporters, however, saying they were instructed by Damascus to do so, as well as avoid making any public statements apart from what is said during the conference.
This is the first time in seven years that Israeli and Syrian officials are sitting around the same table, and a special session will be held Thursday on ways to revive the Israeli-Syrian diplomatic track, with the participation of representatives of all the delegations.
The Israeli and Syrian representatives participated in a dinner Wednesday inaugurating the gathering. The Syrian representatives included the legal counselor to the president and Foreign Ministry, Riad Daudi, and the Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Bushra Kanafani.
The participation of the two Syrian officials was made possible following an invitation of Spanish Foreign Affairs Minister, Miguel Moratinos, and his Swedish, Norwegian and Danish counterparts, under whose aegis the event is taking place.
The Syrian decision to participate in the gathering received a great deal of attention in the Arab media and has been interpreted as the first step in efforts to resume the peace talks with Israel.
The Israeli delegation includes MK Israel Hasson (Yisrael Beiteinu), former Likud ministers Dan Meridor and Roni Milo, as well as former Labor ministers Shlomo Ben-Ami, Moshe Shahal and Ophir Pines-Paz.
Even though the United States boycotts Syria, retired senior American diplomats are participating in the gathering, including Dan Kurtzer and Samuel Lewis, who were ambassadors to Israel.
The European Union is represented by Javier Solana and the former Spanish prime minister, Felipe Gonzalez, who hosted the summit in 1991, will also be in attendance.

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