1. Michael Williams, UN envoy to Middle East arrives at office building of Syrian vice president Farouk Al-Sharaa
2. Photo op with Al-Sharaa
3. SOUNDBITE: (English) Michael Williams, UN envoy to Middle East:
"We have had a wide ranging discussion about the prospects for peace in the Middle East. I think it's important to talk about peace even in a time of great difficulty in the region, as we have seen in the violence in Lebanon and above all in Gaza in the last few days. I think, given those developments it's all the more important to talk about peace, and to talk about the possibilities, for example, which are offered by the Arab peace initiative. Although 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 evening
4. SOUNDBITE: (English) Michael Williams, UN envoy to Middle East:
"I think Israel knows Syria, and understands Syria very well. It knows, if you like, the basis of negotiations, the basis of negotiation that were established in the past going back to the Madrid conference in 1991. And of course there was a long history of negotiations between Israel and Syria in that regard. In one sense it seems to me that a lot of the homework has been done and it has been put aside for some years, but I look forward to the moment when Israel and Syria can return to the negotiating table."
5. Michael Williams arriving in car at foreign ministry building
6. Various of Williams sitting with Syrian Foreign Minister Foreign Minister Walid Moallem
The United Nations envoy to the Middle East met senior Syrian officials on Thursday in Damascus as the turmoil in neighbouring Lebanon threatened to throw the nation back into its darkest era, the 1975-1990 civil war.
Michael Williams met with both Syria's Vice-President, Farouk Al-Sharaa, and Syria's Foreign Minister, Walid Moallem.
Williams was in Damascus the day after the latest deadly attack on an anti-Syrian figure in Lebanon.
"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 evening," Williams told reporters.
The blast that killed Walid Eido, a Lebanese MP serving with the majority anti-Syria parliamentary bloc, was a new blow to the stability of an already conflict-torn nation.
It came just three days after the government, together with the United Nations, started putting together an international tribunal ordered by the UN Security Council to try suspects in the killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in Beirut two years ago.
The tribunal has been strongly opposed by Syria and its allies in Lebanon.
Eido was a prominent supporter of the tribunal, a staunch follower of Hariri and the seventh anti-Syrian figure killed in Lebanon in the past two years.
Many in Lebanon have accused Syria of being behind the slayings, a claim Damascus denies.
Lebanon's majority coalition blamed Syria for Wednesday's assassination.
Syria controlled Lebanon for 29 years until it was forced out after Hariri's assassination, and its Lebanese opponents believe it is seeking to regain domination by plunging the country into chaos.
Williams also referred to potential negotiations between Syria and Israel. There have been reports of secret channels of talks between the two enemies.
Syria insists there can only be a negotiated settlement if Israel returns the occupied Golan heights which it captured from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War.
"I think Israel knows Syria and understands Syria very well. It knows ,if you like, the basis of negotiation, the basis of negotiations that were established in the past going back to the Madrid conference in 1991," Williams said.
"In one sense it seems to me a lot of the homework has been done and it has been put aside for some years, but I look forward to the moment when Israel and Syria can return to the negotiating table," he added.
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 normalisation be spelled out first.