Legal delay scuppers Syria peace talks
A round of indirect peace talks between Israel and Syria scheduled to take place in Turkey this week was cancelled with just one day's notice because the key Israeli negotiator had yet to receive legal approval to participate in the talks.
The cause, government officials said, was the delay in receiving legal approval for Yoram Turbowicz, until last month Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's chief of staff, to continue leading the Israeli delegation.
When talks began in May, Mr Olmert appointed Mr Turbowicz - a close confidante - to lead the Israeli delegation. The talks have so far been held in Istanbul without direct contact between Israel and Syria and under the auspices of the Turkish government.
Mr Turbowicz quit his post as Mr Olmert's chief-of-staff in early August, just after the prime minister announced his intention to resign following the Kadima primaries.
A senior government official told the JC that Mr Olmert asked Mr Turbowicz to retain his post as chief Israeli negotiator with the Syrians on a volunteer basis, a status that requires approval from the attorney general.
"Olmert thought there should be continuity in having the people who know the track the best to stay on and direct the talks," the source explained. "We are working closely with the legal authorities and hope to obtain approval for Turbowicz's participation in the near future."
On Wednesday, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem told reporters in Damascus that Israel had asked to postpone the fifth round of talks.
"When Israel is ready to resume the talks, we will be too because we want to build a solid base that will allow the launch of direct negotiations whatever the outcome of the Kadima party elections in Israel," Mr Moallem was quoted by AFP as saying.
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev would not confirm the reports that the talks had been postponed but said that "Israel is committed to pursuing peace with Syria and we are hopeful that a further round of indirect talks in Turkey will take place in the near future."
Recent Arab media reports have claimed that this was to be a critical stage in the negotiations, dealing with the final border following an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan.
The impact of Mr Olmert's resignation may have an adverse effect on the continuation of the peace talks.