"Syria wants the United States to work seriously for a resumption of the peace process with Israel at the point where it broke down," the official al-Thawra newspaper said on Saturday. 

Syrian President Bashar al-Asad, whose regime faces the threat of US sanctions, said last month he wanted to restart negotiations with Israel that collapsed four years ago. 

But despite some support within his own government, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon rebuffed the overture.

Sharon instead announced plans to increase by half the Jewish population of the Golan Heights, which was seized from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war and unilaterally annexed in 1981. 

Asking for credible role 

"Syria wants the United States to play an honest, neutral,
objective and credible role... and not allow Israel to miss this
opportunity, as Sharon tried to do by saying the negotiations must start from scratch," the newspaper said.

The Golan Heights is a core issue
in the Syrian-Israeli peace talks 

Under ex-PM Barak, Israel agreed to withdraw from most of the Golan Heights except for a narrow strip of land, an option Syria rejected. 

Syria's appeal was made even though Washington has threatened Damascus with diplomatic and economic sanctions, accusing it of "sponsoring terrorism" and developing weapons of mass destruction. 

Denying charges

Damascus has denied the charges, and accuses Washington of double standards and not doing enough to rein in its close ally Israel, the only nuclear power in the Middle East. 

Despite the deterioration in relations, the first US ambassador to serve in Syria for four months presented her credentials on Saturday to President al-Asad, who wished her "success in her mission," the official SANA news agency reported. 

"Syria wants the United States to play an honest, neutral, objective and credible role... and not allow Israel to miss this
opportunity, as Sharon tried to do by saying the negotiations must start from scratch"

al-Thawra newspaper

Margaret Scobey accompanied visiting US Senator Bill Nelson to a meeting with al-Asad where they "discussed the full range of issues relating to US-Syrian relations and regional issues." 

In a first official meeting with Scobey last week, Syrian Foreign Minister Faruq al-Shara highlighted the "importance of
launching a positive and constructive dialogue between the two countries that would permit a better understanding of each side's positions and secure their interests". 

Tense relations

Relations have been tense since the US-led invasion of Syria's
eastern neighbour Iraq in March.

Washington accuses Damascus of helping to arm the ousted regime of Saddam Hussein and of turning a blind eye to foreign armed fighters entering Iraq to carry out attacks on the US-led occupation forces. 

The new US legislation threatens sanctions unless Damascus ends its alleged "support for terrorism" and development of chemical and biological arms as well as medium and long-range missiles. 

Washington also calls on Syria to withdraw its estimated 20,000 troops from neighbouring Lebanon and for both to enter into serious unconditional bilateral negotiations" with Israel to secure "a full and permanent peace."