Mubarak indicated in the letter that Damascus is willing to restart unconditional talks, which broke off four years ago, Aljazeera's correspondent in Cairo reported on Tuesday.

Last month Syrian President Bashar al-Asad extended an olive branch and called for a resumption of peace talks with Israel.

The Syrian-Israeli peace track has been frozen since the 2000 Shepherdstown negotiations ended without a resolution. Former US President Bill Clinton mediated the talks between then Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak and the late Syrian leader Hafidh al-Asad.

Those talks ended without an Israeli agreement to fully withdraw from the occupied Syrian Golan Heights. Israel occupied the strategic plateau during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and annexed it in 1981, a move not recognised by the international community.

Barak refused to withdraw from a strip on the northeast shore of the Sea of Galilee, one of Israel's main sources of water.

Syria wants any peace talks with Israel to resume from where they broke off in 2000, while Israel demands negotiations start with preconditions.

Earlier this month, Damascus dismissed an Israeli invitation for talks in Jerusalem as a "media manoeuvre".

Lebanon-Israel border

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who opposes a withdrawal from the Golan, reiterated his opposition to any such move on Monday.

"The present government doesn't want to give up the Golan Heights regardless of what happened Monday, and (Prime Minister Ariel) Sharon's declarations yesterday show just that"
 
Shlomo Brom,
Israeli strategist

"It's important to know that at the end of negotiations with Syria, Israel would have to leave the Golan Heights," an Israeli parliamentary source quoted the premier as saying.

Members of Knesset, Israel's parliament, interpreted the comments as meaning that Sharon was ruling out any resumption of talks with Damascus.

Following his comments, tensions flared along the Israeli-Lebanese border. The Lebanese resistance group Hizb Allah destroyed an Israeli bulldozer that was entering Lebanon, leaving one soldier dead and a second injured.

Power broker

Syria is the main power broker in Lebanon and offers what it says is moral support to the resistance group. Hizb Allah spearheaded efforts to oust Israeli forces from south Lebanon following a 22-year occupation in May 2000.

But analysts said on Tuesday that the incident was unlikely to have an impact on the already slim prospects of renewed peace talks with Syria.

Hizb Allah has attacked Israeli
positions on the Golan previously

"The present government doesn't want to give up the Golan Heights regardless of what happened Monday, and (Prime Minister Ariel) Sharon's declarations yesterday show just that," said Israeli strategist Shlomo Brom.
 
Israeli strategic analyst Hirsh Goodman said that "negotiations were a non-starter in any case, before and after yesterday's incident.

"Sharon does not want a withdrawal from the Golan Heights and doesn't have to negotiate anyway because there is no serious pressure from [US President George] Bush in that direction," he added.

Israeli military action

Israel has responded sceptically to peace overtures from Damascus, saying Syria would first have to curtail all support for Palestinian and Lebanese resistance groups. 

And as Israel's military establishment weighed military action to Hizb Allah's reprisal, both Brom and Goodman said Israel was unlikely to jeopardise regional stability.

"Either the response will be directly against Hizb Allah or possibly against Syrian positions in Lebanon, but not in Syria itself," said Brom.

"If President al-Asad continues to use Hizb Allah to fight us, he must know that our reprisals will be very clear," Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom told public radio.