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Syrian Vice President Farouk al-Shara downplayed prospects of peace with Israel on Thursday, saying a deal lacked crucial U.S. backing.

"We are not optimistic. The American president does not want peace between Israel and Syria," Shara told journalists at his office in the Syrian capital.

Al-Shara also warned that peace between Israel and the Palestinians is impossible in light of the split between Hamas and Fatah.

"Fatah, even if it is supported by the international community, cannot marginalize Hamas," al-Shara said, "the accusations between the two sides must stop."

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem said earlier Thursday, however, that Syria is "more than ready" to renew peace talks with Israel.

Moallem, speaking at a meeting with European Union envoys in Damascus, said the two sides must approach peace talks without preconditions.

"If the Israelis decide to renew the negotiations, they will find a willing partner," he added.

The London-based Arabic language publication Al-Hayat quoted Syrian sources as saying that Syria will not demand that the United States mediate talks between the two countries, but only that the U.S. sponsor the talks, according to the Madrid principles and international resolutions.

This is a long-time Syrian stipulation, stemming from the country's hope that the U.S. would help end its international isolation. Washington has thus far maintained a policy of trying to isolate Syria for its role in undermining Lebanon's government, its support for Hezbollah and Hamas and its alleged role in the Iraqi insurgency.

Last week, Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Ahmad Arnous emphasised Syria's eagerness to strike a deal that would return the Golan Heights, captured by Israel in 1967.

U.S. President George W. Bush said this week that he does not intend to mediate peace talks between Israel and Syria, and that Israel is capable of managing the negotiations without American help.