Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Thursday there was no possibility of concluding a peace deal with Syria while President Bashar al-Assad remained in power.
"Only a political hypochondriac could say Syria is a partner for peace, certainly under the current leadership," said Lieberman, who heads the ultranationalist Yisrael Beitenu party, a main partner in Israel's rightist coalition government.
The outspoken foreign minister made the comments during a tour of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, a strategic plateau Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 Middle East War and annexed in the 1980s, a move not recognized internationally.
Lieberman , himself a settler, has been a vocal opponent of any extensions to Israel's partial West Bank freeze on settlement building which ended in September and brought U.S.-brokered peace talks with the Palestinians to a standstill.
During his Golan visit Lieberman also accused Syria of being "the center of world terror," adding that the headquarters of Islamist Hamas that runs the Gaza Strip, and is also backed by Iran and other Jihadist groups, have their bases in Damascus.
"These are facts that are difficult to ignore," he said.
During his visit to Katzrin, Israel's largest settlement in the region with a population of 7,200, Lieberman said it should be doubled. The Katzrin official Web site says a municipal master plan calls for 20,000 inhabitants.
Damascus has stuck to its demand for a total Israeli pullout from the Golan before any peace deal can be concluded but years of talks have never gained momentum.
Almost 10 years of U.S.-supervised negotiations collapsed in 2000, several months before the death of Assad's father, President Hafez al-Assad.
Lieberman added: "It must be clear that the Golan Heights was always a part of Israel."
Israel and Syria remain technically in a state of war, and Israeli officials have frequently voiced concerns about the ties and military cooperation between Damascus and the Jewish state's arch-foe, Iran.
Both Israel and the United States, along with many Western nations, accuse Iran of using its controversial nuclear program to produce an atomic bomb, a charge Tehran vehemently denies.
Earlier this year, Lieberman accused North Korea of supplying weapons technology to Syria and Iran, and creating an "axis of evil" with the two countries.
His remarks, made during a trip to Japan in May, drew a curt response from Pyongyang which denied his claims, calling him "an imbecile in diplomacy."