Israel Rejects Syria's Remarks

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JERUSALEM, Israel - Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Syria "crossed a line" by saying Israel is pushing the region toward war.

"Israel is not serious about achieving peace since all the facts point to Israel pushing the region toward war, not peace," Syrian President Bashar Assad told Spanish Foreign Minister Angel Moratinos on Wednesday.

Lieberman called Assad's remark "a direct threat on Israel…that cannot be tolerated."

"I tell Assad and [Foreign Minister Walid] Moallem clearly - what was said yesterday marked a dramatic change of game, a direct threat on the State of Israel," Lieberman said during a conference at Bar Ilan University.

"We heard Defense Minister [Ehud] Barak's sincere call for peace with Syria, and we have now received Syria's answer. Whoever thinks territorial concessions will disconnect Damascus from the axis of evil is wrong," he said.

On Tuesday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak told senior IDF officers that resuming peace negotiations with Syria was critical because the alternative could be war.

At a joint press conference with Moratinos earlier on Wednesday, Moallem responded to Barak by calling Israel "the neighborhood bully."  

"Israel must stop being the neighborhood bully," Moallem said. "Don't test our determination. One day you threaten Gaza, the next day you threaten Lebanon, then Iran and now Syria," he told reporters.

Moratinos, who just returned from the annual Herzliya Conference, said Israelis want peace.

"I came from Israel. I didn't hear any noise of drums of war. I heard drums of peace," Moratinos said.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called Assad's remarks "unfortunate."

"It's unfortunate to hear the statements from Syria when the reality is the exact opposite," a press release from the Prime Minister's Office read.

"Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has said many times he would be prepared to meet and negotiate with Syria as long as [Damascus] does not set any preconditions. Unfortunately, Syria is the one placing obstacles and preventing…negotiations that would guarantee peace, security and prosperity for all parties," the statement concluded.

Last week the Obama administration announced the nomination of Robert Ford for U.S. ambassador to Syria after a five-year hiatus with only low-level diplomats there.

In February 2005, then President George Bush recalled U.S. Ambassador Margaret Scobey following the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri in Beirut.

The recall highlighted U.S. concern over Syria's military and political presence in Lebanon.

Syria has also maintained close relations with Iran since the Iranian Revolution in 1979.

"Iran and Syria should pursue their...policies in the region," Assad told Ahmadinejad during a vist to the Islamic Republic last August, following his re-election, Iranian state news agency IRNA reported.

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