SLUG: 2-311615 Turkey / Syria (L O)
TITLE=TURKEY / SYRIA (L-O)
INTRO: Turkey has offered to act as a mediator between Syria and its arch enemy, Israel, in a bid to end decades of hostility between the two Middle Eastern neighbors. As Amberin Zaman reports from Ankara, Turkey made the offer to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is on a historic visit to Turkey.
TEXT: Turkish officials quoted by the private N-T-V television news channel said Israel is eager for Turkey to play a mediating role to help rebuild relations with Syria. A message to that effect was relayed to top Turkish diplomats last week by Israel's ambassador to Turkey, Pinhas Avivi .
Syria and Israel are still officially at war, although they have not exchanged fire for years. Still tensions have mounted in recent months amid Israeli claims that Syria is training and harboring Islamic terrorists. Israeli warplanes attacked what Israeli officials called a terrorist training camp in Syria in November. And on Wednesday Israel's chief of staff, General Moshe Ya-alon, warned that Israel may strike Syria again if it failed to withdraw its support for international terrorism.
President Assad, who is the first Syrian head of State to ever visit Turkey, has so far not responded to the Turkish offer to host peace talks with the Jewish state. But analysts say Turkey is well placed to bring the two sides together. Turkey is Israel's sole regional ally. The recent thaw in Turkey's relations with Syria, reflected by President Assad's visit, termed historic by officials on both sides, means that Turkey has an open channel to Damascus as well.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict and developments in Iraq were on top of the agenda of Wednesday's talks between President Assad and Turkish leaders.
Mr. Assad also met with Turkey's foreign minister, Abdullah Gul, the chief of general staff, General Hilmi Ozkok, and the leader of the main opposition Republican People's party, Deniz Baykal.
Mr. Assad then went Istanbul to hold talks with business leaders about boosting trade and investment between the two countries. (Signed)
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