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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 July 2007, 12:32 GMT 13:32 UK
Israel offers Syria direct talks
Israeli PM Ehud Olmert
Olmert's appeal for talks comes amid regional fears of conflict
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has urged Syria to restart direct peace talks between the two countries.

In an interview with the al-Arabiya TV station, he said he was ready to meet Syrian President Bashar al-Assad wherever he wanted.

He said Syria should not wait for an American offer to mediate, because, he said, they did not want to be involved.

Negotiations between Syria and Israel collapsed in 2000 without resolving the fate of the Golan Heights.

I am ready to sit with you and talk about peace not war
Ehud Olmert

This mountainous plateau has been occupied by Israel since the 1967 war. Israel annexed the area in 1981 - a move not recognised by the international community.

Syria has repeatedly said it wants peace talks, and Israeli officials have admitted that secret contacts have taken place.

"Bashar al-Assad, you know that I am ready for direct talks with you," Mr Olmert said.

"You have been saying that you want the negotiations through the Americans. But they do not want to sit with you. I am ready to sit with you and talk about peace not war."

Talk of hostilities

BBC Jerusalem correspondent Bethany Bell says that since the end of Israel's war with Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon last summer there has been widespread speculation about the possibility of talks with Syria.

Detailed Golan map

Mr Assad has said he is interested in restarting negotiations and there have been unofficial contacts between the two sides, but it is not clear how serious these offers from Mr Olmert and Mr Assad really are, our correspondent says.

Syria has not commented on Israel's demand that it stop supporting armed Palestinian groups or Hezbollah, and Israel has not spoken about how much it is willing to withdraw from the Golan Heights, which it has occupied since 1967.

Meanwhile, the Israeli press has been full of talk about the possibility of renewed hostilities with Syria, and the Israeli army has been staging exercises in the Golan Heights.

Some Israeli intelligence officials have warned that Damascus is preparing for a conflict.

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