Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom downplayed Saturday the political significance of the hand shakes between Israeli Preisdent Moshe Katsav and both the Syrian and Iranina Presidents.

‘I hope that it can be a new beginning, certainly. But frankly I doubt it,’ Shalom said in an interview with Italian daily La Stampa.

from his side, Khatami strongly denied that he shook hands with Katsav at Pope John Paul’s funeral, the official IRNA news agency said on Saturday.

‘I strongly deny shaking hands, meeting and talking to the Israeli president.’ Khatami said.

‘This claim is like other baseless claims made by the Zionist media in the past,’ he added.

‘Recognising Israel means recognising occupation and force … it will be a blow to humanity,’ Khatami concluded.

Israeli President Moshe Katsav said Friday that Syrian President Bashar Assad initiated the hand shake, saying it will have no policy implications.

During the funeral of Pope John Paul II Katsav shake hands twice with Assad and once with Iranian President Mohammed Khatami; the leaders of the two states that Israel consider as most hostile to the Hebrew state.

Syrian official confirmed Friday that the handshake took place, saying it was an act of formality with ‘no political significance’

At the conclusion of funeral services, Katsav and Khatami exchanged few words in Farsi; Katsav was born in Iran.

Katsav also shook hands with Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

Also at the Vatican, Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom met with his Moroccan counterpart Mohammed Ben-Issa.