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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Israeli Army Chief Rejects Golan Heights Withdrawal

JERUSALEM -- Israel's army chief Ehud Barak said in remarks broadcast Thursday that the Jewish state should remain on the Golan Heights even under an eventual peace with Syria.

But an Israeli cabinet minister who helped forge a self-rule deal with the Palestine Liberation Organization said Israel would have to make a "very deep and very painful" withdrawal from the strategic plateau to make peace with Damascus.

Barak, speaking to Israeli reporters in Washington on Wednesday after discussing with senior U.S. defense officials the security implications of a future pact with Syria, said: "From a professional military standpoint, as long as there is no peace we need every meter of the Golan Heights, and also at a time of peace we had better stay on the Golan Heights."

Wrangling over the strategic plateau, which Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war, has stymied U.S.-brokered peace talks between the sides since negotiations began almost three years ago.

Israel has offered an as yet unspecified withdrawal from the Golan, but demands Syrian assurances that peace will include open borders, trade, and exchange of embassies.

Responding to Barak's remarks, Sarid said in exchange for peace with Syria that the government would have to approve a pullout. "The withdrawal will have to be very deep and very painful," Sarid told army radio.

Washington, which has mediated between the sides in a series of shuttles by U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher, views an Israeli-Syrian accord as the key to an overall settlement in the region.