A high-ranking official who served in former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government said Sunday that Israel and Syria were close to resuming direct peace talks in late 2008. He also said that the Syrians signaled readiness to ease past demands for a full Israeli withdrawal.

Turkish-mediated talks between the two sides were to have progressed to direct talks in December 2008, but the talks were derailed because of Operation Cast Lead, said the former official.

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"Had we started direct negotiations, I believe that we would have concluded them within a month or two," he said.

He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the political and diplomatic sensitivities surrounding the talks.

"The fact that a meeting was to be scheduled for direct talks I think proves that it [the negotiating agenda] was accepted by them and by us," he said.

Direct negotiations in 2000 under then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak broke down. The border the Syrians proposed in the Ankara-mediated talks offered Israel more land between the Kinneret and the border, the Olmert government official said, while refusing to give details.

"There was more space, enough to have an Israeli road between the water and the border line," he said. He said Israel would have accepted this border.

In return for the pullout, the former official said, Israel wanted full peace, open borders, diplomatic and commercial relations with Syria. It also wanted Syria to halt military ties with Iran, Hizbullah and Hamas. Israel did not, however, insist that Syria sever its ties with Iran, he said.

These and other points were accepted by both sides as subjects for negotiation, the official said.

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