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Israel fears Syrian attack

Charles Levinson
London Telegraph
Thursday June 7, 2007 

Israel was seeking peace with Syria, Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, said yesterday amid tensions over a reported military buildup on both sides of their border.

Israeli intelligence officials have been warning for weeks that Syria is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in anti-tank weapons, antiaircraft rockets, and other missiles, and bolstering its presence along the Israeli border.

Mohammad al Habash, a Syrian parliament member, meanwhile, told the Al Jazeera satellite channel this week that his country was actively preparing for war with Israel, which he said he expected to break out this summer.

Israel has similarly fortified its own border defences and on Tuesday conducted well-publicised war games which included a simulated attack on a Syrian village and a surprise attack by Syrian commandoes on the Golan Heights. With both sides on alert and deeply mistrustful of the other's intentions, it is widely feared that a misstep could spark a war that neither side wants.

"Israel seeks peace with Syria," Mr Olmert told his security cabinet. But the Israeli premier warned of "miscalculations that could cause the security situation to worsen".

His comments were the latest indication that the Jewish state is ready to resume long dormant peace negotiations with Syria.

Fears of an accidental war have prompted a handful of senior officials including Amir Peretz, the defence minister, and army Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi to call for reviving talks with Syria.

Shaul Mofaz, the transportation minister and former army Chief of Staff, left for Washington yesterday to seek the Bush administration's blessing for opening direct communication with Syria.

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