giovedì 4 settembre 2008

Sarkozy in Damascus

During his state visit to Damascus, French President Nicolas Sarkozy is expected to give Syrian President Bashar Assad a letter from Noam Schalit, the father of kidnapped IDF soldier Cpl. Gilad Schalit, the Lebanese newspaper As-Safir reported on Thursday.

According to the report, a French source told the paper that "Assad said that he was willing to accept the letter, but he has no intention of handing it directly to Syrian-based Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, because he doesn't want to be considered a moderator between Israel and Hamas."

The source further revealed that it was agreed that the letter would be given to the Qatari Emir, who is also currently in Damascus, and who would then himself pass it along to Mashaal.

Despite recent news reports claiming that the Hamas leader left Syria for the Sudan, the Lebanese paper said that Mashaal is still living in Damascus under Syrian protection.

The paper also quoted the source as saying that Assad promised Sarkozy that he would press Mashaal to continue contacts regarding a prisoner swap deal, but reasserted that the Syrian president "doesn't want to compete with Egypt for the job of moderator on this issue, especially in light of the fact that Hamas chose Egypt as a moderator."

However, on Wednesday a senior Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip said that talks on a prisoner exchange had been frozen.

Mahmoud Zahar said that the Egyptian-mediated negotiations had broken down because Israel wouldn't meet Hamas demands to release prisoners convicted of murdering Israelis.

Zahar also said that the talks had stalled because Israel and Egypt wouldn't open their border crossings with Gaza. Both countries sealed the border after Hamas seized power in Gaza in June 2007.

There was no response from Jerusalem to Zahar's comments, but the Ramon Committee is set to convene on Sunday to resume discussions on detainees to be traded for Schalit.

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