Medvedev in Syria for first time

The Jerusalem Post (Link) - AP (May 11, 2010)

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was expected to hand over a message from Israel to Syria during a visit to Damascus beginning late Monday, as part of a flurry of diplomatic efforts to defuse tensions between the two countries.

The visit is Medvedev�s first to Syria, which was once one of the former Soviet Union�s closest allies in the Middle East. He and Syrian President Bashar Assad are also expected to discuss Iran�s nuclear program, military cooperation and developing economic relations.

The office of President Shimon Peres announced Sunday that Medvedev had agreed to deliver a message to Assad. Peres and Medvedev met in Moscow recently during the annual commemoration ceremony marking the end of World War II.

Peres said Israel wants peace with Syria but that it must stop alleged weapons transfers to Hizbullah in Lebanon. Peres recently accused Syria of transferring Scud missiles to Hezbollah, a claim Damascus denies.

Medvedev will address the rising tensions between Syria and Israel on the heels of the Israeli Scud accusations. The Russian leader was quoted Monday by the private Syrian daily Al-Watan as saying that his country was making serious efforts to help restart Arab-Israeli negotiations.

Medvedev said there should be a collective search for new ways to face �comprehensive dangers and challenges.�

His visit to Syria comes a day after a tripartite summit in Turkey between Assad, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Qatari Emir Sheik Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani. Talks between the three leaders focused on recent tensions in the Middle East.