President Shimon Peres said on Monday that Syrian President Bashar Assad must understand that Israel would not hand over the Golan Heights on a "silver platter" so long as Damascus continued its ties with Iran and Hezbollah.

Peres told visiting German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier that a true peace process between the long time enemies would have to take place at the negotiating table, without preconditions or mediation.

Syrian officials last month threatened to take back the Golan Heights by force if a peace agreement involving the return of the strategic plateau is not reached with Israel.

A group calling itself the Syrian Committee for the Freedom of the Golan said it would take steps to regain control of the territory, adding that Israel has not shown willingness to achieve peace or to return what they called "Syrian land."

Just prior to that, Assad rejected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's offer to resume peace talks between the two countries from "point zero."

Assad said the negotiations should resume from the point at which they stopped under former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, when the two sides had planned to formulate mutual commitments that would enable the talks to move to a direct negotiations stage.

Germany to push Arabs to join Mideast peace process

Steinmeier began talks with Israeli leaders on Monday morning as part of a 40-hour trip to Jerusalem, Damascus and Beirut.

Steinmeier landed in Tel Aviv before dawn and opened his talks by meeting Peres at his Jerusalem residence. He was scheduled next to tour the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, before meeting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and opposition leader Tzipi Livni later in the day.

A planned stopover in the West Bank city of Ramallah, which was to include an inaugural ceremony for some new, German-funded classrooms, was cancelled due to an unannounced, last-minute visit by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to Jordan, a spokeswoman at the German representation in Ramallah confirmed.

A key aspect of the discussions with the Israeli government is expected to be U.S. and European Union calls for a halt to settlement construction in the West Bank.

German officials said Steinmeier also hopes to persuade neighboring Arab states to take a more active role in diplomatic efforts to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The visit is Steinmeier's 14th since taking office in 2005.

He is scheduled to meet Tuesday with President Bashar Assad in Syria and in Lebanon with prime minister-designate Saad Hariri, son of former premier Rafik Hariri, who was killed in a bomb blast in 2005.