Meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres last week, Croatian President Stjepan Mesic offered his government's help in restarting negotiations between Israel and Syria and suggested that his country's Brijuni Islands be used as the site for talks.

Mesic was in Israel last week to take part in the President's Conference, where he described himself as being in close contact with Bashar Assad, holding frequent talks with the Syrian president in the hope of strengthening relations between Zagreb and Damascus.

While meeting with Netanyahu and Peres, Mesic spoke of Assad as a "serious" and "intelligent" leader.

A senior Israeli diplomatic source said Mesic told Netanyahu about his closeness to Assad, and handed Netanyahu a message from the Syrian leader expressing his interest in renewing negotiations.

Netanyahu reportedly asked Mesic about Assad's character and his willingness to reach a peace agreement with Israel and improve ties with the West. Netanyahu said he was ready to relaunch talks with Syria without preconditions, as long as those talks were held directly without a mediator.

"I held negotiations with the elder Assad, and I see no reason that I cannot hold negotiations with the younger," Netanyahu reportedly said.

Mesic offered the lavish summer home of former Yugoslav dictator Marshal Tito in the Brijuni Islands as the site of the proposed talks. Under Tito's nearly three-decade reign, the summer home in the Adriatic hosted more than 100 foreign leaders, many of them from Western countries.

Yesterday, several days after the Croatian president returned to Zagreb, Assad paid him a visit. At a press conference, Assad said he would be willing to renew negotiations with Israel and called on Europe to help in such an effort.

"We call on European countries to also give their contribution, to help Turkey but also us to be able to resume from where we have stopped," Assad said, adding that the presence of a "third side" would be necessary if the talks resume.

"As far as it concerns us in Syria we have national support to continue talks with Israel," Assad said. "However, there is a condition that on the Israeli side we also have those who want to continue the negotiations."

For his part, Mesic said that "the suspended talks should resume and [the] Golan be brought back under Syrian sovereignty .... Security for Israel should be also guaranteed."