Syrian and Israeli leaders "will not shake hands" in Paris

Other News Materials 19 June 2008 15:47 (UTC +04:00)

There will be no handshake between Syria's President Bashar al-Assad and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in a Euro-Mediterranean summit that will be held in Paris in July, Syria's foreign minister said in remarks published Thursday.

Al-Assad and Olmert are expected to attend the summit slated for July 13 to launch a French-proposed economic alliance between Europe and countries on the southern coast of the Mediterranean, including Syria and Israel.

"Arrangements for the launch of the union include no handshake," Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem, speaking in India, which he is currently visiting, told the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.

Last month, Syria and Israel announced that they were in indirect talks under Turkey's auspices almost eight years after their peace negotiations broke off.

The focus of talks is the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau, which Israeli seized in the 1967 war and annexed in 1981.

The minister denied that France was pressing Syria to enter into direct talks with Israel.

"President al-Assad said in many media interviews and in meetings with (foreign) leaders it was difficult to move into the direct talks stage before agreeing on bases and elements of peace," the minister said.

"The second round of indirect talks ended two days ago. It will be followed by more rounds until we reach suitable bases to start direct talks," al-Moallem added.