Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been sworn in for a second seven-year term, following a presidential referendum that critics called a scam. In his acceptance speech, Mr. Assad called on Israel to publicly announce its peaceful intentions toward Syria. Leslie Boctor has more from our Middle East Bureau in Cairo.
The Syrian leader's reciting of the oath of office was met by thunderous applause by legislators in the People's Assembly. In his acceptance speech, President Assad mostly focused on domestic issues, pledging to improve living conditions and speeding up economic reforms.
Mr. Assad also called on Israel to be clear on its stance for peace, saying that Syrians "basically didn't trust their intent."
Mr. Assad said Syrians want Israeli officials to make a formal announcement regarding their desire for peace. He said Syria cannot enter into negotiations with Israel over something that is unclear. Sending messages through secretive channels, he said, is not acceptable.
Mr. Assad's comments were Syria's first official response to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offer to begin direct peace negotiations between the two countries without the mediation of the United States a week ago.
Mr. Assad has repeatedly expressed interest in resuming talks with Israel through a third party. Peace talks between the two countries collapsed in 2000 because of disagreement over the fate of the Golan Heights. The strategically plateau was occupied by Israel during the 1967 war.
Mr. Assad became president in 2000, following the death of his father President Hafez Assad. Since coming to power, the younger Assad has been keen to modernize and reform Syria's economy, introducing laws to encourage foreign investment and privatization. While hundreds of political prisoners have been freed, Syria has also clamped down on pro-democracy activists.