Olmert announces talks with Syria, accused of covering corruption probe

Wednesday, May 21, 2008 |  by Staff Writer

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Wednesday announced that indirect negotiations between Israel and Syria have been taking place in Ankara, Turkey since Monday.

Lawmakers from the opposition to Olmert's own Kadima Party immediately cried foul, accusing the prime minister of trying to divert attention from an increasingly severe corruption investigation that appears likely to end his political career.

In a statement released by his office, Olmert told Israelis that he had "begun indirect peace talks with the Syrians, under the auspices of Turkey. The two sides have declared their intention to conduct the negotiations in good faith and with openness."

Damascus confirmed that the talks are taking place, and Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem told the Agence France Presse (AFP) that Israel had already committed to a full withdrawal from the Golan Heights. Israel later denied that report.

Israeli opposition and coalition lawmakers wasted no time calling into question the fact that the talks with Syria began just as Olmert was sliding every closer to a forced resignation.

Olmert is currently under investigation for allegedly receiving bribes from wealthy US Jewish businessmen during his time as mayor of Jerusalem and then minister of industry and trade. The corruption scandal is the sixth Olmert has been involved in since becoming prime minister, though this one is serious enough for party colleagues to be jockeying for position in anticipation of Olmert being forced to step down.

It is also serious enough that Olmert's legal team is fighting vigorously to block police from being able to question the US businessmen involved in the affair.

On Wednesday, a majority of Israel's Knesset approved a preliminary reading of a bill that would legally obligate Olmert to resign if any criminal indictment is filed against him.

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