A delegation of 25 congressmen began a six-day trip to Israel on Monday in the largest-ever Republican mission to visit the Jewish state, the U.S. embassy said.
They held talks with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who told them Israel was willing to immediately resume direct talks with Syria, but ruled out returning the Golan Heights which were captured in 1967 and annexed in 1981.
"Whatever the case, the Golan must remain under Israeli control in any agreement with Syria," Lieberman said in a statement. Syria insists that it be given back the strategic plateau.
Turkey last year brokered four rounds of indirect talks between long-time foes Israel and Syria, but these were suspended when Israel launched an offensive against the Gaza Strip in late December.
The Republican lawmakers are also scheduled to meet President Shimon Peres, hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and other officials.
Representative Eric Cantor, the only Jewish Republican in national U.S. politics, leads the delegation and said before departure the trip was aimed at reassuring the staunch American ally of Washington's unbending support.
The trip is financed by the American Israel Education Foundation (AIEF) a charitable organisation affiliated with AIPAC, a powerful pro-Israel lobbying group in Washington.
"The goal of the trip is to provide members (of Congress) with first-hand knowledge on the value of the U.S.-Israel relationship, the prospects for peace in the Middle East, Israel's security situation, and the status of important economic and political trends in Israel," the AIEF said in a statement.
Thirty Democratic lawmakers are due to make a similar trip starting on August 9.
Copyright AFP 2008. AFP stories and photos shall not be published, broadcast, rewritten for broadcast or publication or redistributed directly or indirectly in any medium.