Last update - 00:42 23/12/2008 Assad: Direct peace talks with Israel possible and will happen By Haaretz Service and The Associated Press Syrian President Bashar Assad said Monday he believes direct peace talks with Israel are possible and that they will eventually take place. "It's natural that we would move, at a later stage, to direct negotiations. We cannot achieve peace through indirect talks only," Assad said, speaking at a joint press conference with visiting Croatian counterpart Stipe Mesic. The comments reflect a softer stance taken by the Syrian leader, who only recently rebuked Israel by claiming it is not genuine in its professed desire for peace with its Arab neighbors. Assad's comments came as Olmert was in Turkey for talks with officials there that were expected to focus among other things on Turkish-mediated negotiations with Syria. After meeting with Turkish President Abdullah Gul on Monday, Olmert reiterated his assertion that, "Peace with Syria is achievable." Four rounds of indirect Syrian-Israeli talks have been held this year through Turkish mediators, though no breakthroughs were made. The talks were suspended after outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced he would step down. Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, meanwhile, declared on Monday that Israel will not cede the Golan Heights, a key Syrian demand, if he is elected prime minister in February's general election. "The government of Israel under Likud's leadership will make sure that we stay in the Golan, and will keep it for the state's security," said Netanyahu, the Likud chairman. He made the comments while on a tour of the strategic plateau. No new date for the Syria-Israel talks has been set, and Assad didn't say Monday when the indirect talks would resume. They are not expected to go on until after the election that would determine Olmert's successor. The Syrian president compared the peace process to the construction of a building, and said Syria and Israel are now laying the foundations for peace through the Turkey-mediated indirect talks. "We should first lay solid foundations and then construct the building, and not vice versa," he said. "If the bases are successful, then direct negotiations will be successful." Olmert said last week it's possible to negotiate a peace treaty between Israel and Syria. Damascus has proposed that Turkish-mediated talks with Israel resume "officially,' perhaps even directly, after Barack Obama assumes the U.S. presidency and a new government is elected in Israel, according to a reporter from the Qatari paper Al-Watan, in Damascus. Arab sources told the paper that until that time, Syria is not interested in continuing talks with Israel. Syria and Israel are bitter foes. They held direct talks in the late 1990s and early 2000 but negotiations broke down over the extent of an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, a strategic territory captured by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War. Syria insists on the complete return of the Golan Heights, while Israel wants to keep a strip of land around the Sea of Galilee.