Israel is extending an olive branch to Syria. Robert Berger reports from the VOA bureau in Jerusalem.

Cabinet Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer says Israel is making "every effort... to bring Syria back to the negotiating table."

Ben-Eliezer told Israel Radio that the purpose of negotiations is to reach a peace agreement and he said everyone knows the price: namely, the return of the Golan Heights to Syria.

Israel captured the Golan from Syria during the Six Day War in 1967 and annexed it in 1981. Israel is reluctant to give the territory up; it is strategic high ground and 31 Jewish settlements have been established there.

Peace talks between Israel and Syria collapsed in 2000 when the sides failed to agree on the extent of an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan. Since then, tensions between the two countries have risen, with Syria supporting Palestinian militant groups like Hamas and the Islamic guerrilla group Hezbollah in Lebanon.

But earlier this week, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert signaled that he was ready to open a secret channel with Syria.

"I say indeed that I am prepared to make peace with Syria. I hope that the Syrians are prepared to make peace with Israel," he said. "And I hope that the circumstances will allow us to sit together. That doesn't mean when we sit together you have to see us."

The United States, meanwhile, has been demanding that Syria end its support for radical elements in Lebanon and Iraq. Washington has also been pushing negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians with the aim of reaching a peace agreement by the end of the year. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will arrive here on Saturday to try to give the Palestinian track a boost.