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Last Updated: Friday, 13 August, 2004, 10:08 GMT 11:08 UK
Israelis 'could leave the Golan'
Israeli troops on manoeuvres in the Golan Heights
Israeli troops on manoeuvres in the Golan Heights, captured from Syria in 1967
A senior Israeli military official has said his country could withdraw from the Golan Heights as part of an eventual peace deal with Syria.

Israel's army chief, Gen Moshe Yaalon, said in an interview with a leading Israeli paper that the move would not endanger Israel's security.

The Golan Heights were captured from Syria in 1967.

The Israeli military's traditional view has been that Israel needs the Golan as a security buffer against Syria.

Moshe Yaalon
From the point of view of military requirements we could reach an agreement with Syria by giving up the Golan. The army could defend Israel's borders wherever they are
Gen Moshe Yaalon
Interviewed by Yediot Aharonot
Gen Yaalon told Yediot Aharonot that the army could defend Israel's borders even if a political decision were taken to withdraw from the strategic plateau.

In 2003, Syria proposed the resumption of talks with Israel over the Golan Heights.

Talks have effectively been stalled since 2000 when the Israeli government apparently offered to give up the Golan Heights, except for a strip along the Sea of Galilee, also known as Lake Tiberias.

Damascus rejected this. It backs the land for peace formula, but insists on the return of all Syrian territory captured in 1967.

West Bank settlements

Gen Yaalon's comments come a day after Israel's deputy prime minister, Ehud Olmert, said the withdrawal of Jews from the West Bank is likely to involve more than the four settlements slated for evacuation under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's current plan.

Mr Olmert said Israel had no choice but to quit some areas if it was to remain a free and democratic state.

Current plans foresee a full pullout of Jews from Gaza and the closure of four of more than 100 West Bank settlements.

Correspondents say Mr Olmert is close to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and sometimes floats ideas at his behest. However, unnamed officials from Mr Sharon's office are reported to have said that the prime minister does not agree with his deputy.

All settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.

Mr Sharon has called for a controversial complete evacuation of the 7,000 settlers in Gaza and the troops who protect them next year, but the plans for the West Bank were less all-encompassing.

Israel will maintain control of Gaza's borders, coastline and airspace.

Mr Olmert said even the US, which he described as "virtually our only friend", favours an Israeli withdrawal from almost all of the West Bank.

He also said changes in the limits of the area controlled by Israel would ensure that the Jewish state maintained a majority Jewish population.

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