Lieberman's comments prompted Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, to issue a statement reassuring Syria that Israel seeks peace.

'No preconditions'

Nir Hefetz, Netanyahu's spokesman, said the prime minister had discussed the Syria issue with Lieberman.

"The two clarify that the policy of the government is clear: Israel seeks peace and negotiations with Syria without preconditions. Having said that, Israel will continue to act aggressively and persistently to any threat toward it," the statement from Hefetz said.

In another statement, the prime minister's office said Netanyahu will ask his ministers to refrain from speaking out about the Syrian issue.

Lieberman, the head of the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party, has stirred controversy before with statements that Israeli-Arab parliamentarians who meet Palestinian fighters should be executed and that the president of Egypt could "go to hell".

Eitan Cabel, a member of parliament from the Labor party, urged Netanyahu to get rid of Lieberman, calling the foreign minister a "warmonger who has no honour or wisdom."

Golan Heights

In his speech on Thursday, Lieberman also advised Syria to abandon its dreams of recovering the Israeli-held Golan Heights.

"We must make Syria recognise that just as it relinquished its dream of a greater Syria that controls Lebanon ... it will have to relinquish its ultimate demand regarding the Golan Heights," Lieberman said.

"All this is just posturing and things will calm down in two or three days since neither Israel nor Syria want to cause a war."

Eyal Zisser, specialist on Israeli-Syrian relations

Syria seeks the return of the Golan Heights, the plateau Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war, as a precondition for any peace deal with Israel.

Several rounds of indirect peace talks between Syria and Israel in 2008 ended without agreement.

Al-Assad's comments about Israel not seeking peace came in response to a warning from Ehud Barak, the Israeli defence minister, who earlier this week said the absence of peacemaking with Syria could result in a regional war.

Eyal Zisser, a specialist on relations with Syria at Tel Aviv University, said he believed the Syrians misinterpreted Barak's comments, which were meant as an argument in favour of renewed negotiations.

Zisser described the heated language between the two neighbouring countries as "posturing".

"All this is just posturing and things will calm down in two or three days since neither Israel nor Syria want to cause a war," he said.