The summit in Damascus, involving Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister and Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, the Emir of Qatar, was aimed at finding a way to reach a breakthrough between Israel and Syria.

 

Seeking support

 

Syria has said that ultimately only Washington has the power to sponsor direct talks between it and Tel Aviv, although it has been keen to win greater international support for the process.

 

"We are also waiting for the Israeli election to be assured that a new prime minister would be on the same track as Olmert and be ready to completely withdraw from the occupied land in order to achieve peace," al-Assad said.

 

He also said Lebanese president Michel Sleiman had agreed to join future direct talks with Israel, adding: "We don't want just a peace agreement. We want peace."

 

Israel and Syria, which have technically been at war for 60 years, launched indirect negotiations brokered by Turkey in May, eight years after talks were frozen over the fate of the Golan Heights, which Israel occupies.

 

Western hostility

 

Israel seized the Golan, a strategic plateau, in the 1967 war with Arab states and annexed it in 1981 in a move not recognised by the international community. 

 

Sarkozy is the first Western head of state to visit Syria since the murder of Lebanese ex-premier Rafiq al-Hariri in a 2005 bombing in Beirut that was widely blamed on Damascus.

 

Relations between Paris and Damascus have started to improve since Sarkozy hosted al-Assad in France in July.

 

Sarkozy appears determined to bring Syria back into the international fold, despite hostility from other Western powers, including the US.

 

France has promised al-Assad economic incentives in return for political progress.