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Israel Says Tension with Syria Subsiding


Israel is playing down tensions with its arch-enemy to the north - Syria. As Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, there are new moves to bring Syria into the Middle East peace process.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says Israel is not interested in war with Syria. Speaking behind closed doors to parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Mr. Olmert said he believes tensions between the two countries will subside.

There have been unconfirmed reports in the foreign press of a secret Israeli air strike on a Syrian nuclear facility more than two weeks ago. Syria denies reports that it received nuclear materials from North Korea, but confirms that Israeli jets violated its air space.

The incident occurred months after Israel warned of a Syrian military buildup. Israeli generals said Syria could opt for war to retrieve the strategic Golan Heights, captured by Israel during the Six Day War in 1967.

Israeli analyst Alon Liel says suspicions are running deep.

"Syria all the time said that it has one hand extended to peace and the other one is preparing for war," said Liel. "Israel believes the second half, that Syria is preparing for war, and did not believe the peace option."

The United States has signaled that it would invite Syria to an international peace conference expected to take place in November. Israeli spokesman Mark Regev says Israel would not object to Syrian participation.

"Israel is interested in as many Arab states attending this meeting as possible, states that support peace, that support reconciliation, that oppose terrorism," said Regev.

Israel hopes that if Syria attends the conference it would be pulled away from the radicals and into the camp of the Arab moderates. At the same time, Israel says it will not resume peace talks until Syria cuts ties with Iran and stops supporting Islamic militant groups, including Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.

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