Rep.: Israel Said No Syria Attack Plan

The Associated Press
Saturday, April 7, 2007; 9:20 PM

WASHINGTON -- Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told a visiting group of U.S. lawmakers to relay to Syria that Israel had no intention of attacking it, according to one of the participants on the trip, Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn.

"He very clearly said he was worried that Syria might misinterpret some things that were happening in Israel, and he didn't want to end up in an accidental war with them," Ellison, the first Muslim member of Congress, said in a telephone interview Saturday. "So he told us to tell them that he was not planning to attack them."

Ellison said Olmert was concerned that if Syria believed that Israel was planning an attack, the Syrians would make preparations to defend against one, and then a conflict could be provoked if something unexpected happened at the border.

The Israeli embassy in Washington had no immediate comment on Ellison's account. There was no answer at the Syrian embassy on Saturday.

Ellison said Olmert didn't specify what Syria might "misinterpret." He said the group relayed the message to Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The leader of the congressional delegation, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said earlier this week that she had delivered a message from Olmert that Israel was ready for peace talks, and that Assad had replied that "he's ready to engage in negotiations for peace with Israel." But Olmert's office later issued a statement saying peace talks could take place only if Syria stopped assisting terror groups.

President Bush criticized Pelosi for meeting with Assad, because the administration considers Syria to be a state supporter of terrorism.

Ellison, who also met with Assad, rejected that criticism.

"If we want to change Syria's behavior, we have to tell that to them," he said. "We have to make it clear to them. We have to engage. We have to talk to people."

The trip also included visits to Lebanon and Saudi Arabia. Ellison called Saudi King Abdullah a "visionary leader."

"Even being in the same country where Mecca and Medina are located was personally uplifting for me," he said. In Jerusalem, Ellison visited the Al Aqsa Mosque compound, Islam's third-holiest site after Mecca and Medina, which he called "personally moving for me."

He said he was well received in Israel.

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