by Tzippe Barrow
JERUSALEM, Israel - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad says he is committed to "a just and comprehensive peace," according to Syria's state-controlled news agency, SANA.
Assad told French Middle East envoy Jean-Claud Cousseran in Damascus on Monday he's ready to resume third-party negotiations with Israel, provided Turkey serves as mediator.
According to the report, the Syrian president thanked French President Nicolas Sarkozy for a letter delivered by Cousseran, in which he expressed his intention to strengthen ties with Syria because of its key role in Mideast peace.
But even a cursory glance at Assad's policies belies his so-stated commitment to live in peace with Israel.
- Assad plays host to senior Hamas officials, lead by Damascus-based Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal.
- The Syrian president also maintains close ties with Hezbollah, the Lebanese-based Iranian proxy, and has encouraged Lebanon's Prime Minister Sa'ad Hariri to work smoothly with Hezbollah.
- Following the Second Lebanon War with Israel in the summer of 2006, Assad granted free passage of Iranian arms shipments for Hezbollah across its borders. Israel estimates Hezbollah's missile cache to be around 40,000, hidden in mosques and buildings in some 150 Shiite villages across southern Lebanon.
- Assad often speaks of his increasingly close relationship with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who continues to arm, train, and finance Hamas and Hezbollah.
In short, most of Assad's closest associates represent regimes that oppose Israel's existence and threaten with some regularity to attack the Jewish state.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Assad's pick to mediate a peace agreement with Israel, also maintains close ties with the Islamic Republic, voting against the last round of U.N. sanctions targeting Iran's nuclear program.Notwithstanding, the Obama administration's Middle East envoy George Mitchell, who is in the region for peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, will head for Syria to meet with Assad.
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