"There are efforts being made in this direction and they are not new," the official Sana news agency quoted him as saying at a meeting with ruling Baath party officials on Sunday.

 

"The Israeli side knows full well what Syria would or would not accept."

 

Last week an Israeli newspaper, Yediot Ahronot, quoted Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, as saying that Israel and Syria have been exchanging messages to clarify expectations for any future peace treaty.

 

Diplomats in Damascus say Turkey is the third party that has been relaying the messages between the two sides.

 
Failed talks

 

Negotiations between Syria and Israel collapsed in 2000 over the scope of a proposed Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, seized by Israel in 1967.

"The Israeli side knows full well what Syria would or would not accept"

Bashar al-Assad, Syrian president

Previous international attempts to persuade the two countries to resume talks foundered with each attaching conditions to return to the negotiating table.


Al-Assad also said that Syria will not hold secret talks with Israel.


"Anything we do in this regard will be in front of Syrian public opinion," he said.

 

"The standard for accepting negotiations is their seriousness and conformity to United Nations resolutions."

 

Syria wants Israel to commit to a full withdrawal from the Golan Heights and prefers the US, Israel's chief ally, to oversee the talks.

 

But Israel wants Syria's ties with Lebanon's Hezbollah and the Palestinian group Hamas to be on the agenda.

 

In 2006, Swiss diplomats helped mediate in unofficial talks between the Israelis and Syrians and draw up a plan focusing on an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights.

 

Tension between Syria and Israel has risen since, after Israel launched a raid shrouded in secrecy on a Syrian military facility last year.