Israeli President Moshe Katzav shakes hands with
Iranian President Khatami and Syrians at Papal
 April 8, 2005
Israeli President Moshe Katzav had quite a surprise Friday
morning while attending the funeral of Pope John Paul II at the
Vatican: he received handshakes from Syrian dictator Bashar
Assad and spoke to Iranian President Mohammad Khatami. Both
Syria and Iran are in a formal state of war with Israel and seek the
Jewish State's destruction.
It is believed this is the first time that a president of Syria shook hands with the
president of Israel.

Assad has called for renewed peace negotiations between Syria and Israel. Israel
has asked Syria to end its occupation of Lebanon and to stop supporting militant
groups that are responsible for terrorist attacks against Israelis first. Peace talks
between the two countries last broke of in 2000 when Assad's father was still in
power in Syria.

Katzav told Israeli radio that he had a conversation with Iran's Khatami in Farsi.
Katzav was born in Iran and speaks Farsi fluently. Katzav said the conversation was
about the town in which both he and Khatami were born. Since the Islamic
revolution in 1979, Iran has had very hostile relations with Israel and has supported
militant groups like Hezbollah which carry out terror attacks against Israel.
The handshake and conversation between individual leaders is just a minute step towards peace in the Middle East.
Perhaps it is a fitting gesture that this small but symbolic move happened during the funeral of Pope John Paul II who
cared so much about peace.
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Even in death, Pope John Paul II brought together the bitterest of foes, with the Israeli President meeting his Syrian and
Iranian counterparts for the first time at the pontiff’s funeral today.

Assad was sitting one row away from Katzav and according to the Israeli president, said 'Good morning' and shook
Katzav's hand. After the funeral, the two shook hands again.