- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 14, 2004

JERUSALEM — Israel could give up all of the Golan Heights for peace with Syria without compromising security, the army’s chief said in an interview published yesterday, undercutting the contention of successive governments that Israel needs to keep at least a slice of the plateau.

It was not clear whether Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon, an outspoken chief of staff who has stirred controversy in the past, was expressing his personal view or whether Israel was sending out feelers to Syria.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s aides declined comment, and Syrian officials played down Gen. Yaalon’s remarks. Syria has said a complete withdrawal from the Golan is a prerequisite for a peace deal.

In the West Bank, a Palestinian gunman killed Shlomo Miller, 50, the security chief of the Israeli settlement of Itamar, in a roadside ambush. Guards then fatally shot the gunman.

The attacker was a Palestinian policeman, and the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, with ties to Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement, claimed responsibility. Israeli troops later demolished the assailant’s house in a nearby village, leaving nine persons homeless.

Also yesterday, dozens of prominent Palestinians signed a newspaper ad with a list of demands for government reform and a war on corruption.

The ad, to be published today in the three largest Palestinian dailies, does not name Mr. Arafat or hold him in any way responsible, but is the most detailed manifesto by reformers since protests against official corruption erupted in the Gaza Strip last month.

Gen. Yaalon suggested that from a military point of view, Israel could afford to withdraw from all of the Golan Heights, captured from Syria in the 1967 Mideast war.

“If you ask me, theoretically, if we can reach an agreement with Syria … my answer is that from a military standpoint it is possible to reach an agreement by giving up the Golan Heights,” he told the Yediot Ahronot newspaper.

“The army is able to defend any border. This is correct for any political decision that is taken in Israel.”

However, Gen. Yaalon also warned that Syria still poses a threat to Israel, and the two countries could again find themselves at war. He noted that Syria has “missiles that put all of Israel in range and chemical capabilities.”

Israel has long argued that giving up all of the Golan would endanger Israeli security. Israel annexed the Golan Heights in 1981.

In failed peace talks with Syria, Mr. Sharon’s moderate predecessor, Ehud Barak, offered to give up virtually all of the heights but insisted on some border adjustments. The talks collapsed in 2000 with Syria demanding a full pullout.

Last year, Syria indicated it wanted to resume talks. Israel said Syria must first end its support for Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon and Palestinian radicals it hosts.

Ahmad Haj Ali, an adviser to the Syrian information minister, said yesterday that Gen. Yaalon’s statements mean little “unless they are associated with a serious move [toward peace] and with international guarantees.”

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