In a speech to delegates at the National Progressive Front governing coalition on Monday, the vice-president said Syria was keen to conclude a just peace.

 

He added that a just peace would "lead to an Israeli withdrawal from all occupied Arab territories".

 

However, Mashariqa said Israel appeared not to be interested in peace. "Israel does not recognise the legitimate right of the Palestinian people to resist occupation.

 

"The US administration shares this view and regards resistance in the occupied territories as terrorism."

  

Syrian offer rebuffed

 

Last month, Syrian President Bashar al-Asad announced his readiness to resume peace talks with Israel "without precondition", abandoning long-standing demands for negotiations to resume where they broke off in early 2000.

  

But the offer met a cool response from Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and, on 19 December, US President George Bush said Syria would have to wait until after negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians bore fruit.

  

"Now al-Asad needs to wait - first peace between Israel and Palestine, and then we will see what to do with Syria," Bush told an Israeli newspaper.