Turkey: Syria Insists We Moderate Peace Talks With Israel

By Jack Khoury (Haaretz) and Haaretz Service

Published October 20, 2009.

Advisers to Turkey’s prime minister have said that Syria would accept only their country as a mediator in peace talks with Israel, after Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu recently voiced doubts that Ankara could continue in the role.

Following a crisis in relations between Israel and Turkey last week, Netanyahu said he objects to Turkey resuming its role as mediator and does not see how the country can remain “an honest broker.”

The aides relayed the message to Balad MK Jamal Zahalka, who was in Istanbul to participate in a forum which included representatives from Middle Eastern and European states.

They said neither the Syrians nor the Turks are of the belief that Israel is interested in advancing peace talks with Syria, given Netanyahu’s public refusal to relinquish the Golan Heights, a key Syrian demand.

Zahalka told Haaretz that the Turkish premier, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, had adopted a more moderate tone when discussing Turkey’s readiness to help push the peace process between Israel and Syria forward if and when both countries so desire.

He quoted Erdogan as saying that the Iranian nuclear impasse cannot be resolved militarily. Diplomacy is the only avenue to diffuse the crisis, the Turkish leader said. Ankara would also be willing to serve as a mediator between Iran and the international community, Erdogan told participants at the conference.

The Turkish premier said that ultimately the Middle East should be free of weapons of mass destruction, Zahalka said.

Erdogan also repeated Turkey’s call for the lifting of the blockade on Gaza, which has become “a large prison for a million-and-a-half Palestinians.”

Two weeks ago, tensions flared between the two countries after Turkey banned Israel from participating in a NATO air force drill. Ankara further strained relations last week when it refused to take off the air a television drama depicts Israeli soldiers killing Palestinian children.



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