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The handshakes

Israeli President Moshe Katsav shook hands with Syrian President Basher Assad and with Iranian President Mohammed Khatami, at the funeral for Pope John Paul II at the Vatican today:

Israeli President Moshe Katsav shook hands and chatted briefly Friday with the leaders of Israel’s arch-enemies, Syria and Iran, during the funeral of Pope John Paul II, the president’s office said.

Katsav’s spokeswoman, Hagit Cohen, said it was too early to say whether the handshakes would yield diplomatic fruits, but called the exchanges historic. “There is no doubt that this is a precedent, it was a historic moment and unique opportunity,” Cohen said.

Is this an encouraging sign of a future thaw? Positive news on a Friday afternoon is always welcome, and colour me crazy but I’m tempted to view this in an optimistic light, despite my better judgment. A baby step, to be sure, but a step nonetheless.

I can’t help but wonder what reaction will be like in Syria and Iran at the news.

Update: Well, I didn’t have to wonder long. Khatami is denying the handshakes took place, claiming it’s – what else? – a fabrication of the “Zionist media”. Can’t say that surprises me too much. (Via Meryl Yourish).

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