Foreign Ministry director-general Yossi Gal has held secret state-level meetings in Oman's capital Muscat, a senior official in Jerusalem told Haaretz. Diplomatic relations between Israel and Oman were cut off in 2000 at the start of the second intifada.

The official said that Gal had left for Muscat with the ministry's deputy director for Middle East affairs, Yaakov Hadas, and other high-ranking officials.

The Israeli delegation left on Sunday and will return Tuesday.

The formal reason for the visit was participation in the annual conference of the Middle East Desalination Research Center, in which Israel is a member. However, Gal and his colleagues also held talks with Omani officials, reportedly meeting Oman's foreign minister, Yusuf Bin Alawi.

Israeli efforts

The source said Gal brought up Israel's efforts to renew negotiations with the Palestinian Authority and its willingness to take steps on settlement construction and improving the Palestinians' lives in the West Bank.

The Middle East Desalination Research Center was set up in 1996 as part of the negotiations between Israel and Arab states after the Madrid Conference and the Oslo Accords.

In addition to Israel, the members are the PA, the United States, Japan, Jordan, the Netherlands, South Korea and Qatar.

All members send scientists to the institute to take part in joint water projects.

Recently, the Obama administration approached Oman to begin steps toward normalization with Israel as an incentive to restart the Palestinian-Israeli peace process.

Although Oman agreed to renew diplomatic relations, it conditioned this on Israel stopping settlement construction and withdrew when Israel refused to do so.