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Turkish PM to Israel: Assad serious

Jan. 8, 2004 at 4:04 PM

JERUSALEM, Jan. 8 (UPI) -- Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has told Israel's ambassador to Ankara Syrian President Bashar Assad is serious about renewing peace talks with Israel.

In a lengthy meeting Thursday to discuss the Syrian leader's visit this week to Turkey, Erdogan told Ambassador Pini Avivi: "Syrian President Bashar Assad said he is serious in his intention to renew peace talks with Israel and intends taking all the necessary steps to reach a peace agreement in the Middle East."

Erdogan, who also offered to mediate between Israel and Syria, said he believes Assad's statements were not merely for public relations purposes, Ha'aretz reported.

The meeting came as pressure mounted Thursday on Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to respond to diplomatic overtures from Syria.

Among the senior cabinet ministers voicing public support for dialogue were Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and President Moshe Katsav, Ha'aretz said.

During his meeting with Avivi, Erdogan welcomed the Israeli decision earlier this week to import water from Turkey and said he planned to visit Israel in the coming months.

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