A UN special envoy for the Middle East said Thursday after meeting a top Syrian official that there is a ''different atmosphere'' in Israel toward Syria and expressed hope the two countries would resume talks.
Michael Williams, UN special coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, spoke after meeting Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa in Damascus, the Syrian capital.
Williams, who is on a tour of the Mideast after assuming his post last month, said he had ''detected a different atmosphere'' in Israel about prospects of peace talks with Syria.
However, he did not elaborate what the change entailed.
Israel and Syria suspended talks indefinitely in Jan. 2000. Syria wanted assurances that Israel would withdraw from the Golan Heights, which it captured during the 1967 Mideast war, and turn over land extending down to the Sea of Galilee. Israel refused, insisting that issues of security arrangements and normalization be spelled out first.
Syria's Assistant Foreign Minister Ahmad Arnous said this week his country was ready to resume peace talks with Israel without preconditions. In the past months, Syrian officials, including President Bashar Assad, have repeatedly said they are ready for the talks to resume.
''I think Israel knows Syria and understands Syria well,'' Williams said. ''In one sense, it seems to me that a lot of the homework has been done. I look forward to the moment when Israel and Syria can return to the negotiating table.''
Williams added that he wanted to visit Syria and talk to Damascus officials because ''it's important to talk about peace and about the possibility, for example, which has been offered by the Arab peace initiative.''
The initiative, revived at an Arab summit in Saudi Arabia in March, offers Israel complete peace with Arab neighbors in exchange for relinquishing lands its seized in the 1967 Mideast war.
Israel has expressed reservations over much of the plan, including return of Palestinian refugees, but recently said it would offer a counterproposal of its own.
Williams said he and his Syrian host also discussed the situation in Lebanon, where a powerful car bombing Wednesday killed a prominent anti-Syrian legislator, Walid Eido, and nine other people. Many in Lebanon's Western-backed government blamed Syria for the bombing.
Syria controlled Lebanon until after last year's assassination of a former Lebanese prime minister, when Damascus caved in to international pressure and pulled its troops out.
''I did discuss with the vice president the situation in Lebanon, and I was very pleased to know that the Syrian government issued a very strong condemnation of the tragic assassination which took place in Beirut yesterday,'' Williams said.