SALEM (AFP/Reuters) - Israels firebrand Foreign Minister on Thursday further fuelled a bitter battle of words with Syria, warning that its President would be toppled in any armed conflict between the two neighbours.
Avigdor Liebermans direct verbal punch at President Bashar al-Assad capped several days of threats traded between Israel and Syria.
Assad had crossed a red line, Lieberman.
When there is another war, you will not just lose it, but you and your family will lose power, Lieberman said, a day after Syria cautioned that Israel would face a bloody regional conflict if it failed to follow the path of peace.
Hours after Lieberman spoke, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahus office sought to ease the tone, saying the Premier had spoken to the ultra-nationalist Foreign Minister on the Syrian issue.
The two would like to make it clear that the governments policy is clear: Israel seeks peace and negotiations with Syria without preconditions, a statement said. At the same time, Israel will respond vigorously and with determination to any threat against it.
The latest spat emerged after Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak warned on Monday that if there is no peace agreement with Syria, we might find ourselves in a forceful conflict that could lead to an all-out war. Syria responded angrily, with Assad saying it seemed Israel is working towards a war and Foreign Minister Walid Muallem telling Israel: do not test the power of Syria since you know the war will move into your cities.
Netanyahu on Thursday suggested relaunching the contacts which collapsed after Israel launched its devastating military offensive in the Gaza Strip in December 2008.
The Prime Minister has declared on numerous occasions he is willing to go anywhere to negotiate with Syria, without precondition, his office said, lamenting what it said were obstacles put in the way by Syria. But Liebermans warning to Assad overshadowed Netanyahus statement.
It should be clear that if he provokes us, it will end badly for him on the battlefield but also for his power. I hope this message will be heard in Damascus, the Minister said at a business conference at Bar Ilan University near Tel Aviv.
Some lawmakers urged Netanyahu to dismiss Lieberman for threatening Syria, a northern enemy that has talked peace with Israel in the past.