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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 October 2006, 23:26 GMT 00:26 UK
Syria welcome in Israel - Peres
Shimon Peres
Mr Peres's comments were downplayed in Israel
President Bashar al-Assad of Syria is welcome to come to Jerusalem for peace talks, Israel's deputy prime minister, Shimon Peres, has said.

"If he says 'I want a meeting', I am sure Israel will say 'Very well, let us meet and talk'", Mr Peres said.

President Assad said on Monday that Syria would be prepared to hold talks.

But Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert distanced himself from Mr Peres's remarks. The invitation, his spokesman said, was not issued on his behalf.

In his television interview, Mr Peres, referring to Egypt's historic peace treaty with Israel in 1978, said: "Why can't Assad do what others have done? Sadat came here."

'Axis of evil'

Peace talks between Syria and Israel broke down six years ago, after Syria demanded that Israel hand over the Golan Heights, which it has occupied since the 1967 war.

On Monday President Assad acknowledged Syria and Israel could live side-by-side in peace accepting each other's existence.

The BBCs John Simpson said Syria no longer feared an Israeli attack because Israel failed to destroy Hezbollah, which Syria supports, during its attacks on Lebanon this summer.

The current US administration has said Syria is a member of what it has called an axis of evil.

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