A Syrian-American businessman with ties to the Damascus government made an appearance before an Israeli parliamentary panel Thursday, telling lawmakers that Syrian President Bashar Assad is ready to make peace with the Jewish state.
The lawmakers reacted positively, peppering him with questions about secret talks he held with a former senior Israeli diplomat. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government, however, gave no indication it was ready to restart peace talks with
Syria — broken off in 2000.
The businessman, Ibrahim Suleiman, said he did not represent or speak for the Syrian government, but asserted he had high-level contacts with officials in Damascus. His appearance before the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee made him the first Syrian to address Israeli lawmakers.
Earlier this year, it emerged that Suleiman held several rounds of secret, unofficial talks with former Israeli Foreign Ministry Director-General Alon Liel, with the knowledge of leaders in the two countries.
Liel, who also addressed the parliament committee, said he set up a meeting between Suleiman and Foreign Ministry officials, but the ministry canceled the meeting. Foreign Ministry spokesman Yariv Ovadia said "the time was not ripe for this kind of meeting."
"Syria right now is ready to speak peace. I challenged the Israeli government to answer President Bashar's call for peace and sit down together," Suleiman told a news conference after the meeting, which was supposed to last an hour but went on for 2 1/2 hours. "I think it can happen in six months."
In the course of their talks, Suleiman and Liel drew up a tentative peace proposal to end the conflict.
Suleiman and Liel last met in late July, during the Israel-Hezbollah war.
In his testimony, Suleiman did not identify his contacts in Syria. Still, committee chairman Tzachi Hanegbi said he received the impression that Suleiman has "relayed messages more than once between Israel and Syria over the years, and this is evidence of his stature."
Liel and Suleiman have asked the Israeli government to allow Suleiman to visit one or more of the dozen Syrian prisoners held by Israel. They said that could be interpreted as a goodwill gesture to Assad. Eisin said the government was looking into the request.
The 70-year-old Suleiman began his trip to Israel on Wednesday with a two-hour visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem. He said he was "very, very honored" to receive the invitation from the Israeli parliament, or Knesset.
Last Mod: 20 Eylül 2018, 18:16