Syrian President Bashar al Assad on Thursday confirmed for the first time reports in the Arab media claiming that Israel had agreed to implement full withdrawal from the occupied Golan Heights in exchange for peace with Syria. In an interview with the Qatari daily Al Watan the Syrian president conveyed that the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, had informed him that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had agreed to cede the Golan for peace.
The Syrian leader disclosed that Israel and Syria were exchanging messages since the end of the 2006 Lebanon War, adding that the flow of messages had intensified since Turkey became involved about a year ago, especially since April 2007. "The mediation between Damascus and Tel Aviv thoroughly increased since the end of the war in Lebanon and Hizbullah's victory," Assad said. "However, Turkey entering the picture in April of last year has precipitated the disclosure of new positive details as Olmert told the Turkish prime minister that he was willing to retreat from the Golan," Assad said.
Assad added that Olmert's willingness to cede the Golan was reiterated in interviews he has given recently. "We have heard a statement by Olmert in which he said: 'We know what Syria wants and they know what we want.'"
According to Assad, despite positive developments that were the result of Turkish involvement, the negotiations should be held publicly and not secret. "What we now need to do is to formulate common grounds with the Turkish mediator," he said. "But there will be no direct negotiations with Israel unless they are public. Negotiations being held via the Turks are not considered direct talks." The Syrian president stressed that the talks now should concentrate on the return of the Syrian lands in order to test the credebility of the Israeli side.
Assad mentioned that he will discuss the Israeli issue with Erdogan when the latter comes to Damascus next Saturday, heading a Turkish business delegation.