JERUSALEM – Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Monday said Israel is not interested in violent conflict with Syria, adding that he is confident that recent tensions with Israel's archenemy will subside, Israeli media reported.
Olmert's comments, made before a closed meeting at the Israeli parliament, were his latest attempt to ease worries about a possible conflict with Syria after a reported Israeli airstrike in Syria on Sept 6. Israel has never publicly acknowledged an incursion.
Olmert told parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that Israel has been monitoring Syrian troop movements in recent weeks, Army Radio reported.
"We're not interested in friction, and I think the Syrians aren't either," the report quoted him as saying, citing unidentified meeting participants. "I think the tensions in the area will gradually subside."
At the time of the alleged air raid, Syria accused Israel of invading its airspace and dropping unspecified munitions. Israel has refused to comment on the incident and imposed a news blackout on the matter.
But Mideast defense officials have told The Associated Press an Israeli airstrike targeted a Syrian "technology installation" in tandem with commando forces on the ground.
Foreign news reports have cited officials and experts as saying the attack targeted either arms meant for Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon or some sort of nonconventional weapon, perhaps a joint Syrian-North Korean nuclear project. Syria has denied both, and North Korea has denied a nuclear link with Damascus.
"Israeli warplanes' intrusion into the territorial airspace of Syria and bomb-dropping are an outright violation of Syria's sovereignty and a grave crime that destroys regional peace and security," South Korea's Yonhap news agency quoted the North's main Rodong Sinmun newspaper as saying on Monday.
The North also claimed that the United States defended the Israelis' "brazen behavior" in allegedly launching the airstrike, Yonhap said.
Israel considers Syria one of its greatest enemies and accuses Damascus of backing the militant organizations Hamas and Hezbollah, which have bases there. Despite the recent tensions, Olmert last week called for the reopening of peace talks, without conditions, between the two adversaries.
Past negotiations broke down seven years ago over Syria's demand for the return of the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war.
Israel offered to go back to the international border, but Syria insisted on also controlling another small strip of territory — the east bank of the Sea of Galilee, which Israel captured during the 1948-49 war that accompanied its creation. Talks also faltered over the extent of peaceful relations Syria would offer.