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Is Israel considering withdrawal from the Golan Heights?

Is this a trial balloon, or is it one man speaking for himself?

Israel could give up all of the Golan Heights for peace with Syria without compromising security, the army chief said in an interview published Friday, 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 Yaalon's remarks. Syria has said a complete withdrawal from the Golan is a prerequisite for a peace deal.

Of course, we've been down this road before:

In failed peace talks with Syria, 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 in Syria.

Ahmad Haj Ali, an adviser to the Syrian information minister, said Friday that Yaalon's statements mean little "unless they are associated with a serious move (toward peace) and with international guarantees."

I'm not optimistic, but let's see...

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