Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Israel breaks silence on Syria, condemns 'genocide'

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TEL-AVIV -- After more than a year of official silence, Israel finally came out publicly against the continued massacre in Syria and called for the removal from office of President Bashar Assad.

Deputy prime minister Saul Mofaz told Israeli army radio a "crime against humanity, a genocide is being conducted in Syria today."

Mofaz criticized the conduct of Russia, which weakly condemns the slaughter while continuing to arm Assad's murderous regime.

"Best case, this is irresponsibility and worst case it is a partnership in the slaughter," he said.

Israel has limited options in Syria but is now ready to lobby for international action.

Similar remarks were made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Addressing his weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, Netanyahu said that, for obvious reasons, Israel cannot get directly involved in Syria but it needs its voice to be heard.

"This slaughter is being carried out not far from Israel's borders. For understandable reasons, Israel cannot be directly involved. But I think that the West, led by the United States, has an interest in guarding the threshold (so) genocide does not take place."

The statements by Netanyahu and Mofaz put an end to the divisions between policy makers in Israel regarding Syria. Some Israeli policy makers argued Syria is protecting the Golan Heights and does not allow the tension to slip across the border. Lately, however, policy makers in Israel reached the conclusion bringing down the Syrian regime would weaken the axis of Iran, Syria and Hezbollah.

In his weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said Israel cannot intervene directly in Syria, "but our hearts are with the Syrian people."

The change in Israel's position came amid reports dozens of Kuwaitis are fighting with the Syrian Free Army after crossing from Turkey. Relatives of the Kuwaitis said volunteers from Saudi Arabia, Algeria and Pakistan are ready to join the uprising against Assad.

Public demonstrations condemning the bloody regime dominate the scene in Syria. If this continues, the Syrian regime will be confronted by public mutiny and economic crisis that will drain the financial resources of the regime.

The Syrian regime has long been condemned by western countries for providing a haven for terrorists. The Syrian role in Lebanon has not been forgotten by international community.

The Syrian crisis could develop into a wider, comprehensive war in the Middle East if it continues to move towards civil war. This is one of the reasons Moscow is sending Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to Tehran Wednesday.

Lavrov is rushing to Tehran to discuss the non-proliferation issues in Moscow later this month. But the Syrian file is high on the agenda. Lavrov knows the non-proliferation subject is high on the agenda in Tehran, but the Syrian crisis will be also discussed at length.

Samuel Segev is the Winnipeg Free Press Middle East correspondent.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 12, 2012 A11

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About Samuel Segev

Samuel Segev is the Winnipeg Free Press correspondent in the Middle East. He is based in Tel Aviv.

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