Israel and Syria secret talks reported; Abbas calls for ‘resistance’

Report: Israel, Syria Held Informal Talks

Israelis and Syrians reportedly held unofficial negotiations recently on a potential peace accord. Ha’aretz reported Tuesday that between 2004 and 2006 Alon Liel, former director-general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, was in an Israeli delegation that met secretly with Ibrahim Suleiman, a Syrian American considered close to the Assad regime, as well as an unnamed European mediator. According to Ha’aretz, the sides settled on a blueprint for a gradual Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, which it captured from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War. The plan called for much of the strategic plateau to become a park for Israelis and Syrians to use, and Damascus would distance itself from Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran, the report said. Ha’aretz reported that the governments of Israeli Prime Ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert were aware of the talks, though Olmert denied it. The Syrian government also called the report “baseless.” Israel Radio quoted Liel as confirming he took part in the meetings but saying he “did not represent anyone.”

Abbas Calls for ‘Resistance’

Mahmoud Abbas praised Palestinians who fight Israeli “occupation.””We have raised our rifles against the occupation, and that is a legitimate right,” the Palestinian Authority president said last week at a rally of his Fatah faction in the West Bank. “It is forbidden to raise rifles against one another. Our rifles, all our rifles, are aimed at the occupation.”

Abbas, generally portrayed as a moderate, has been scrambling to head off civil war between the secular Fatah and the terrorist Hamas group, whose ascent to power drew a Western embargo on aid to the Palestinian Authority last year. Despite his apparent endorsement for Palestinian attacks on Israelis, Abbas also voiced hope for renewing peace talks with Jerusalem.

“Our hand is outstretched [in peace,”] he said. “We have rights and we want to live as others live.”

Rape Charges Expected Against Katsav

Israeli prosecutors reportedly are preparing to indict President Moshe Katsav on at least one count of rape. Yediot Achronot reported Monday that the State Attorney’s Office, which has been examining allegations of sexual molestation and rape lodged against Katsav last year by several former female employees, has decided to charge him on at least one count of the more serious felony. No date was given for theindictment.

Sources at the State Attorney’s Office said no final decision has been made on Katsav’s case, but confirmed that an indictment was considered imminent. The Israeli president, who is due to step down this summer, has denied any wrongdoing.

House Calls for Ahmadinejad Charges

A bipartisan slate of lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives proposed a resolution calling on the Iranian president to face genocide incitement charges.

The nonbinding resolution brought last week to the House’s Foreign Affairs Committee and initiated by Reps. Steve Rothman (D-N.J.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) said statements by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad calling for the destruction of Israel amount to crimes according to the 1948 Convention on Genocide.

The convention not only provides for punishment for genocide, Rothman and Kirk wrote in a letter to their colleagues, but “also prohibits ‘direct and public incitement to commit genocide.’

It further provides that individuals committing genocidal crimes shall be punished ‘whether they are constitutionally responsible rulers, public officials or private individuals.’

Ahmadinejad’s hateful rhetoric calling for the elimination of Israel, a Member State of the United Nations, qualifies as inciting genocide.”

The resolution has garnered 22 sponsors.

Olmert Courts China on Iran

Ehud Olmert secured a Chinese pledge to use diplomatic pressure to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear weapons. The Israeli prime minister returned home last Friday after high-level talks in Beijing, where he argued that a nuclear-armed Iran would threaten not only the Jewish state but also stability in a region that supplies China with much-needed oil. Olmert quoted both Chinese President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao as telling him that their country was opposed to the Iranians obtaining nuclear weapons, but also believed that diplomatic pressure could rein in Tehran.

The China trip culminated a tour that Olmert launched last year among countries with permanent seats on the U.N. Security Council, which on Dec. 23 passed a resolution imposing limited sanctions on Iran and giving it 60 days to halt uranium enrichment. Olmert aides said they were hopeful that should Iran flout the resolution, sanctions would be stepped up.

Irish Leader Presses Peace on Hamas

Ireland’s prime minister called on Hamas to renounce violence and accept a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Speaking to leading Saudi politicians and businessmen Monday in Riyadh, Bertie Ahern said it is “fantasy for Hamas to pretend that there is an alternative to a negotiated two-state solution.”

But he also cautioned the West not to ignore or set aside the views and interests of Hamas supporters. In a nod to his host, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, Ahern also praised the Arab League’s 2002 Beirut declaration — promising a pan-Arab commitment to peace if Israel met certain conditions — as “historic.” Israel reacted cautiously to the plan when it was announced, but Prime Minister Ehud Olmert recently signaled a willingness to revisit it. Ahern is heading an Irish trade delegation to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

SS Widow Settles With Irish Broadcaster

The widow of a Belgian SS volunteer reached a court settlement with the Irish national broadcaster granting her the right of reply to a documentary about Nazi fugitives and collaborators in Ireland. Juliet Folens, wife of the late Albert Folens, a former member of the SS-affiliated Flemish Legion and founder of Ireland’s largest publisher of schoolbooks, had sought an injunction preventing RTE television from broadcasting a portion of “Ireland’s Nazis” dealing with her husband’s wartime activities. The second half of the documentary was set to air Tuesday, but it was redacted to exclude an enactment of torture that Folens allegedly carried out during the war. The program also will include a reply by Folens stating that she and her family do not accept that Folens was a member of the Nazi party or employed by the Gestapo, as the film claims. Folens was sentenced to 10 years in prison by British authorities for his participation in the Flemish Legion, but escaped custody in 1946 to Ireland, where he lived until his death four years ago. The film documents several Nazis and collaborators who found safe haven in Ireland in the postwar years.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency