Until now, Bashar Assad says, his country has waged war against Israel, viewed Americans as its opponents and offered Hamas political chief Khaled Mashaal and other top leaders exile as well as employment opportunities. Nevertheless, Assad says, he sees opportunities for less violence. "We would be happy to do our part to stabilize the region," he told SPIEGEL in an interview to be published on Monday.
But he also insisted that his country's relations with Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran would not be dictated by outsiders.
"Good relations with Washington cannot mean that we have bad ones with Tehran," he said.
Assad also sharply attacked Israel's invasion of the Gaza Strip, an action he described as terrorism. He said he would like to see a "larger German role" in negotiation efforts in the Middle East. "We can see the feelings of guilt evoked by your past. And we also see they influence Germany's Israel policies. They shouldn't anymore," the Syrian president said.
On Friday, Assad's positions at a special summit of the Arab League were largely hard-line, and he called on all Arab states to cut off ties with the Jewish state. But in an interview with SPIEGEL editors this week, he presented his own peace plan -- one that, in his opinion, could also be accepted by Hamas. Its central point would be a guaranteed withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza, "within four days at the latest," as well as an end to the embargo. The Jewish state, he said, could only be provided with guarantees that the rocket attacks on Israel would be stopped.
SPIEGEL ONLINE will run the entire interview in English on Monday.
No Cease-Fire Yet
On Friday night, the United Nations Security Council called on the UN General Assembly to demand an immediate and lasting cease-fire in the Gaza conflict. The Israeli government then said it would consider a unilateral cease-fire on Saturday.
The attacks on Gaza Strip, however, continue. Some 50 targets were hit early Saturday, including a UN school struck by a grenade launched by an Israeli tank. Reuters reported two children dead at the school, and a spokeswoman for the Palestinian Health Ministry, Moaiya Hassanain, said 25 people had been injured.
UN spokesman Chris Gunness condemned the attack. Gunness said around 1,600 people had sought shelter from Israeli attacks in the school. He said Israel has the coordinates for the school and knows that the building is being used as a shelter. He also called for an investigation into possible war crimes. Israeli forces are reportedly investigating the incident, but they have made no public statements.
Meanwhile, Hamas has said it will continue its fighting if its demands aren't met. Hamas representative Osama Hamdan told reporters at a press conference in Beirut, "today the movement's delegation arrives in Cairo. And clearly, we have nothing new to offer ... Either we hear what we have demanded or the result will be the continuation of confrontation on the ground."
He said the idea of a unilateral cease-fire declared by Israel would not take Hamas' demands into consideration.