Syria has turned down an Israeli invitation to President Bashar al-Assad to hold peace talks in Jerusalem.
In a radio interview, Israeli President Moshe Katsav said he had invited Mr Assad "to seriously negotiate" with Israel.
But Syrian Expatriates Minister Buthaina Shaaban said the Israeli proposal was not a serious answer to Mr Assad's peace overtures.
Recently, the Syrian leader has been keen to improve relations with the West and admitted the "region is going through a bad period".
How can Syria and Israel move forward? Send us your comments.
This debate is now closed. Read your comments below.
The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:
Syria forfeited the Golan Heights when they attacked Israel. It is insane to expect it back. Syria should swallow its pride and commit to peace with Israel.
E Kalmbach, Toronto, Canada
Talk and diplomatic gestures would be pointless as long as Syria is intent on undermining Israeli stability and Israel is actively colonizing the Golan Heights.
Peter Vevang, Minneapolis, USA
We all want peace. But will any one let me return to my hometown? I'd like to tell you that my grandfather and some of my uncles were killed by Zionist groups in 1948. Despite that, I am ready for peace if it is fair peace.
Mohammed, Palestinian in Syria
As a Syrian, I would love to see the day that Syria & Israel make peace. Unfortunately, Israel refuses to negotiate the Golan Heights (land that was taken from Syria in the 67 war and Annexed illegally, some 14 years later). In my view, this is the only obstacle standing in the way of Peace between these two countries. Once this land is returned to Syria, then clearly Syria will have no choice but to denounce terrorism and stop the support of Hamas & Hezbollah.
All this really comes down to Trust, neither one trusts the other and neither one wants to take the first step. It's shame that Sharon doesn't follow the footsteps of Yitzhak Rabin, a Prime Minister who truly cared for Peace and was killed because of his belief that he can achieve Peace with the Arabs.
Antoine Heshme, Brooklyn NY - USA
Eventually Israel and Syria will achieve an uneasy peace similar to the peace Israel currently enjoys with Egypt and Jordan.
It will probably not happen with Sharon in power as his reputation in the Arab world is far too negative. It will also only happen with great compromise on the part of Syria. The Golan will certainly not be returned in its entirety and the "right of return" for the Palestinian refugees that Syria and other Arab nations demand will not happen either.
Josh, NH, USA
Israel should not, under any conditions, give up the Golan Heights. People forget that Syria is performing an illegal occupation of its own: the occupation of much of Lebanon. Until the Syrians leave my country, Israel should not negotiate for any land giveaways.
Bashir Gemalya, Lebanon
This is a bogus invitation. How can Syria be able to negotiate a "serious peace" with a man is not in charge to deliver peace? What happened to the UN Resolutions that required Israel to return the Golan Height among other occupied Arab lands? If Israel is really interested in peace, Israel would comply with the UN Resolution. Remember, all Arab States including Syria already voted and issued a resolution in Beirut last year recognizing Israel right to exist within its recognized international borders and they will have a complete relationship with the State of Israel if Israel complies with the UN Resolutions. Peace is not so complicated or far away.
Ghassan Tafla, Bowling Green, USA
In an attempt to draw a parallel. Imagine if Mexican suicide bombers and terrorists came across the US border into Texas for the sole purpose of killing US civilians. In order to end support for the terrorists, the Mexican government insists Texas be returned to Mexico. Although it sounds ridiculous, it's exactly what most of you are supporting on this board.
Bob, Pittsburgh, USA
I wonder why the President of Israel did not offer to go to Damascus to talk peace instead. There are at least 2 notions of Jerusalem. Which one of them was the President of Israel inviting Assad to? He should make another invitation, this time to Tel Aviv or preferably offer to go to Syria, then perhaps his peace offer will taken to be serious.
Muhammad Bawa, London, UK
The only way for Syria and Israel to move forward is, as with any similar situation, through (a) face-to-face talks and (b) a total cessation of violence on both sides. Also, while compromise is clearly important, it is also necessary for both parties to still maintain some principles by which to stand.
Andrew Beacham, Bristol, UK
The only Arab nation who accepted the existence of Israel is Egypt, in return for the occupied (by Israel) territories. I believe that similar deals could be achieved with the other neighbouring countries. I am afraid though that Sharon with the support of the US administration is looking for more than this something that will not be easily accepted by other countries in the region. It is probably time to bury the hatchet and take the most difficult step, to trust the other side.
Adriana S, Greece
To Adriana: No, Egypt is not the only Arab country which recognises Israel; there are two peace treaties with Israel - with Egypt and Jordan. As Lebanon (that does not have any territorial dispute with Israel) is de-facto a Syrian puppet (partially under Syrian occupation), the reality is that Syria is the only country having border with Israel without a peace treaty with Israel.
Uri D, Israel
I think Syria and Israel should start minor talks, but above of all if they want a long term peace then they should start trading with each other. Israel should return the Syrian land first, and in return Syria should voluntary make some of that area a demilitarize zone. However, trade is the key to peace between Israel and Syria.
Nasir, Orange County, USA
I would suggest that a country such as France broker peace talks. It is in the interest of Israel more than Syria to find lasting peace. Syria, with its new leader is gaining allies such as Britain. Israel is loosing the political argument in Europe and more worrying for them, in the US as well. Israel must give on all sides to promote lasting peace. Personally I would like the genuine Israelis live in peace and sincerely hope they can achieve it sooner rather than later.
Tony Scott, M'bro. England
Actually, for me as a Syrian, I don't mind the peace talks at all. If Israel is ready to return back our land and allow the 300 000 Palestinian refugees to go back home, then we will respect Israel. But, unfortunately, it sounds no good to Sharon. I want to remind some American friends that Israel, and not Syria, who attacked USS LIBRETY in 1967, when Israel occupied our land.
There is only a cynical fatalism at the moment. The Syria and Israel ceasefire is part of a more all-encompassing issue about Israelis right to exist, Palestinian right to self-determination and development, water, farmland and many more. With Arafat, al-Assad, Sharon and Bush as the key players, there is no room for compromise. Hardliners are ruling the roost, but they function only as men of war and do not have the ability to take progressive action.
Chris C, London, UK
It is true that Israel has fought defensively for survival from its creation as a state for many years. In my opinion, for quite some time now it has stopped being on the defensive and started being aggressor. How many years have passed since any neighbouring stated attacked Israel? I thing that if Israel was true about a peace plan it would withdrew its forces from the occupied territories and if it doesn't trust its neighbours enough it could ask for the UN deployment.
Ariani Papakaliati, Athens Greece
A lot of people forget why Israel took the Golan. I have stood at the top of the mountains and looked down over Northern Israel, as Syrian snipers used to every day. Syria cannot be trusted to re-occupy this high ground, especially whilst they allow Hezbollah to attack Israel from Lebanon.
We have heard a lot about how Bashir is different from his father, but I believe that he learnt nothing about democracy and freedom whilst studying in the West.
Michael Jacobs, London, England
Syria's refusal to attend the peace talks reflects the fact that it will not be bullied into compromise by the Israelis. The Israelis think they are all powerful with the US behind them, but at least Syria is proving otherwise.
Prashanth Parameswaran, Malaysia
The sad thing is Assad junior is behaving like his father. He seems to think that by being a 'rejectionist' is a good thing. The world has moved on and it is time for Syria to do so as well.
Jonathan D, Wolverhampton, UK
It is self-evident that Syria and Israel are not the peace-seekers in the region, especially Israel. I think now it is the time of the west to persuade both countries to reach the peace, because it is a precious chance for both sides to help the peace process in the Middle East. They should not miss this golden opportunity.
Ghlamreza, Kabul, Afghanistan
I believe, President Moshe Katsv's invitation to Mr Assad to Israel for negotiation was serious. I do not think the invitation should have been extended in the first place. For Syria, the Golan Heights must be returned before any negotiation for peace. The Golan Heights is a strategic location vital to the defence of Israel against attack by Syria.
Jaward Sesay, Philadelphia, USA
Let's be realistic. Israel is a Democracy and Syria is a dictatorship. Any agreements between the two countries would represent nothing more but a continuation of the present status-quo no matter if Syria gets the Golan back or not.
Mike S, Chicago, USA
Syria's Assad can not change the icon of Israel as the enemy of the state in one day or one night. Even Syria's students at schools and Universities are taught, for decades, that Israel is the enemy and no compromises should be made. To change that, Assad needs a true initiative from Israel. I am afraid, Sharon can't do it, he is a wrong man to start peace. Israel leadership needs either a replacement or a total change of actions, which is unlikely to happen under Sharon.
Syria is the only country with the courage to support the Palestinian cause. I hope they maintain their hard-line stance against Israel's illegal occupation of both the Golan Heights and Palestine.
Nick Ferriman, Bangkok Thailand
Why doesn't Syria take this good opportunity offered by Israel? Everybody is making all effort toward a world of peace and development. For me, this is the best chance for Syria to improve its image in the world and move closer to the countries in the region. More importantly, Syrians have chance to live in peace and development.
Nhu Truc Le, Danang City, Vietnam
Israel should dismantle the Illegal settlements in the Golan Heights and with draw to the 1967 border. Israel should then, like Libya, admit to its' weapons of mass destruction and invite the UN in to oversee their removal and destruction. Anything short of that is a double standard. Now Israel can have real peace talks with its Syrian neighbour.
William L. Donlon, Rochester New York USA
If Assad is serious about negotiating with Israel, he should come to Jerusalem to prove it. After all, it is hard to be serious about negotiating with a country whose existence you deny.
Inna Tysoe, Sacramento, CA, USA
I think the best thing for Israel is not to take this opportunity seriously and not to talk to Damascus.
Mehdi Karroubi, Tabriz, Iran
I believe Israel's overtures to Assad are legitimate. They have been for some time, even though I do not care for Sharon, or agree with some of his policies. Assad would be wise to answer with sincerity, if he can. Syria will never use the Golan against Israel again. I believe they can get some of the Golan back, but never all. None of this will happen until the Syrians agree to the existence of Israel and Israel's right to live in peace; which is all the Israelis, the majority of them, want. They also have to stop supporting Hezbollah and the PLO factions in Lebanon. They have to stop their occupation. It is not up to Israel at this point, it is up to the Syrians.
Brian, Woodland Park, USA
How about Israel offering to vacate from the Golan Height? That would be a very good start.
Lansana A Konneh, Dhaka, Bangladesh
Mr Assad could be losing a very important window of opportunity if he fails to at least talk to the Israelis. He could play a really important role and become recognized by the major powers as being in a key position. He has much to gain and little to lose by at least talking.
David, Summit, NJ, USA
I think a simple host and guest formula will solve the problem if both parties will understand its true meaning. Over the centuries the Arabs were famous for their warm hospitality. But they don't seem to welcome the Jewish settlers. Why not? Because the Jewish settlers are not behaving as guests. So if Arabs start being hosts and Jews guests maybe than there will be peace in the Middle East.
Suzanna Begalieva, NYC
Arabs are ready to live with Jews as far as Jews become as guests and let to Arabs be hosts. But we didn't create our country to be guests of somebody. Just like Arabs became independent in more than 10 countries, we want be hosts, not guests in our own country.
And this is exactly what Arab world does not want to accept.
Regarding to Golan Heights: can you remind me any country that lost the territory as result of its aggressive politic (look newspapers of 1967 to see how the war begun) and then required them back as basis for real and effective peace? We are almost 60 years after II World War but somehow I don't see German requiring from Russia to withdraw from East Prussia or from Poland to move back from today's border. The moving of today's border is possible, but the only principle for real peace is: peace for peace, not territories for peace.
Vladimir Beker, Israel
If Israel does not pull back from the pre-1967 boundaries unconditionally, I see no solutions for the regional conflict with Syria or the Palestinians. You cannot stop a car while pressing the accelerator. The limited natural water resources in the area are also the main bone of contention for the land grab.
David Farrugia, Malta
Mr Assad will stall for as long as he can. He (and his country) do not want Israel to exist, let alone become peace partners. But once President Bush is re-elected you will see Mr Assad sit down with the Israeli's to talk peace. But by then I'm afraid it may be too late for him to be taken as a serious peace partner, and the US military crosshairs will be on Syria.
Dan, Port Allegany, USA
Syria should negotiate with Israel for peace; Israel always wanted to have peace. It should be clear however that the Golan Heights should not be claimed by Syria, as they were a base for launching wars and aggressions towards Israel few times in the past. Any aggressor, which loses land, cannot expect to receive it back!
Uri D, Israel
I was in Syria a couple of months ago, and it is obvious to me that Bashar Assad is not another Saddam, and is different from his father. For one thing he is a man who from the outset of coming to power has been trying to reach out to the people, even if the bureaucracy and group of elites around the regime whom he inherited might have contributed towards frustrating his efforts. As for peace with Israel, I believe that it will happen, but Bashar might well be better served, especially internally, to forgo dealing with the current Israeli government given their resounding failure to move forward on peace with the Palestinians.
Samer Kurdi, Amman, Jordan
Mr Assad should come to Jerusalem for negotiations. If Israel invited him, they apparently had something to offer.
Direct negotiations between leaders is the best way to get something done.
Julian Mannini, USA
Syria was and still is a key player in the Middle East peace process. Their presence is greatly recognised by all the countries in the region. It is essential, for the sake of the talks, that Syria participate. I believe Katsav's intentions are good but unless something is done about Sharon's stubbornness and recklessness, we wont get anywhere.
Mohamed Ibrahim, Christchurch, New Zealand
At this point I doubt that they can because the governments of these countries hate each other so much. For peace to truly take root, the Syrian and Israeli people must demand it from their leadership.
Rich, Dallas, Texas, USA
Both sides have to want to negotiate. It makes little difference if either leader tells a journalist that they want negotiations, only direct communication between the parties will work. So far Assad and Katsav have given us some nice sound bites, now it is time for them to actually make an effort.
Ira Udaskin, Toronto, Canada
I think the best thing for Israel is to take this opportunity seriously and to talk to Damascus. President Bashar Assad is very intelligent and a very good leader for his country and I wish him all the best.
If Israel and Syria make peace, this will be one step closer to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. Remember, friends compromise much better than enemies.
Adam, New York, NY
Syria is an important player in Middle Eastern politics. Remember how the US government was concerned about its support to Saddam Hussein during the war in Iraq. Syria can also, if it makes peace with Israel and the US, play a major role in bringing Iran closer to these two countries.
Janan Mosazai, Kabul, Afghanistan
Syria's role in forging new peace deals in the Middle East is, of course, important. But Israel must play its part also. The borders between Syria and Israel have remained quiet for years now and Syria will get nothing from the current administration in power in Israel. Syria must not make the same mistakes as the PLO did when it signed Oslo. It must stick to the principles of international law in its dealings with the Jewish state.
Syria's importance in the region has dramatically changed since the Iraqi war. Syria is now surrounded by US and Israel. What was once a position of power has significantly changed. The results have been Syria's need for more allies in the region.(See the new relations with Turkey.) The overtures made toward Israel are definitely not made from a position of power but a reflection of the new reality in the region.
Sean, Boston, USA
Syria is holding a very important position in Middle East peace process. It would be very blunt mistake to undermine it's position.
Keeping in view what happened with Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Iran, I think Syria has made a good choice to go for negotiation to get some favour .
Dharm, Karachi, Pakistan
If Syria commits to the non funding of terrorist organisations then it should have an important role otherwise it will be sidelined by the international community as other countries like Iran and Iraq have.
Human rights and democracy are more prevalent in Syria than most of America's Arab allies, but because Syria supports Palestinian freedom fighters, it has been ostracised by the West. I personally thing Assad is a good leader for his country as long as he doesn't sell out to Israel and America but negotiates with them instead.
Baz, London, UK
Extremely important. As a Sovereign state, Syria is totally justified in its battle to clear Israeli settlers off the Golan Heights and if Israel wants peace with the Palestinians, it would be wise to befriend Syria. Likewise, Syria who would like closer ties to the West would benefit from peace with Israel. However, I feel the ball is in Israelis court to do the right thing for a change.
Francine Last, Tanzania
Syria's role in the new Middle East geopolitical environment is assured if it makes peace with Israel. Israel will be given back the highly priced Golan Heights. In return, Syria must stop aiding Palestinian fighters, Hezbollah's in Southern Lebanon. If Libya that has no boundary dispute with Israel is leaning towards opening up ties with Israel, Syria can't just afford the isolation in this unfolding new political landscape.
Jaffer Ali , Omdurman Khartoum
Syria's role in the Middle East is important, first because it is sharing a hostile border with Israel and it wants the Golan Heights back. Secondly, Syria's relation to Iran through the ruling minority is strong. Iran as the biggest countries in the region is backing Syria against Israel to counter the American influence in the region. Hopefully, the people should not pay the price of these power struggles.
Joey , Nl