Turkey has told Syria that Israel is prepared to swap the Golan Heights for peace, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was quoted as saying on Thursday, confirming reports of a Turkish peace mediation.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan "informed me of Israel's readiness to withdraw from the Golan in return for peace with Syria," Assad was quoted by the Qatari daily Al-Watan as saying.
In excerpts from an interview to be published in full on Sunday, the paper quoted Assad as saying Ankara has been mediating between Israel and Syria since April 2007.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert assured Erdogan of his readiness to return the Golan, and this was relayed to Syria a week ago, Assad said.
"What we now need is to find common ground through the Turkish mediator," he said, adding that any negotiations with Israel would be conducted via Ankara.
"The first thing we will discuss is recovery of the land in order to (ascertain) Israeli credibility, because we have to be cautious and precise in discussing this issue," Assad said.
Assad said Israel was proposing direct talks, but that these need common ground and "a sponsor, which can only be the United States, unfortunately."
He said the administration of US President George W. Bush "has neither a vision, nor the will to (push forward) the peace process" but that direct negotiations might become possible under the next one.
Assad said he will discuss the issue with Erdogan when the Turkish prime minister visits Damascus on Saturday.
Assad's remarks come a day after reports in Syria that Erdogan has assured Damascus that Israel is ready to return all of the Golan Heights in return for peace.
Israel captured the Golan from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it in 1981 in a move never recognised by the international community.
An Erdogan spokesman declined to comment on the reported peace feelers.
"We are going to Syria on Saturday. The prime minister will make the necessary statements before and after the visit. We deem it inappropriate to comment on the issue at the moment," Mehmet Akif Beki said in Ankara.
As its price for peace, Syria has consistently demanded the return of the whole of the Golan right down to the shores of the Sea of Galilee -- Israel's main water source.
Last June two Israeli ministers confirmed that peace feelers had been made to Syria through third party governments, one of which was widely identified as Turkey.
But the same month Syria's ruling coalition, the National Progressive Front, rejected the reported Israeli proposals, dismissing them as an "effort to impose conditions which have nothing to do with the principles of peace."
Olmert told Israel's Channel 10 television last week: "Very clearly we want peace with the Syrians and we are taking all manner of actions to this end.
"President Bashar al-Assad knows precisely what our expectations are and we know his. I won't say more."
Israeli government spokesman David Baker reiterated the point on Wednesday. "Israel wants peace with Syria. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has reaffirmed that in numerous recent interviews and he hasn't changed his opinion since," Baker said in Jerusalem.