Israel wants US planes as price of quitting Golan

PATRICK COCKBURN

Jerusalem

Israel is asking for $2.5bn (pounds 1.5bn) in defence equipment from the US in return for withdrawing from the Golan Heights under a peace treaty with Syria. The package includes surveillance aircraft, early-warning stations and access to US satellite information, to compensate Israel for the loss of commanding positions on the Golan.

The Israeli Chief of Staff, Lieutenant-General Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, who starts security talks with his Syrian counterpart in Washington on 27 June, will see US defence officials to discuss Israeli requirements, according to the daily Jerusalem Post.

Israeli-Syrian negotiations gained momentum last month, when Syria agreed to restart talks suspended last December. Israeli leaders have become open about their willingness to give up the Golan in return for a comprehensive peace, although the frontier line is a subject for negotiation.

The Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres, said Israel is "willing to make a withdrawal on the Golan Heights, [as] we consider peace with Syria more important than all the prior negotiations, because it could be the last negotiations." Israel signed an interim peace deal with the Palestinians in 1993 and a peace treaty with Jordan in 1994.

Mr Peres said the issues of the line of withdrawal and a pull-back timetable would require negotiations between the Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, and the Syrian President, Hafez al-Assad. President Ezer Weizmann said: "We need to reach a situation where the Syrian President will stop viewing us as 'unclean', as unfit for his company."

The US Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, left Jordan for Washington after a tour that he said had raised his hopes for a Middle East peace. He said the chances for peace were higher than at any time in his two- and-a-half years in office. Mr Christopher said Washington would consider giving more military aid to Jordan.

Forgiving Jordan's debt of $275m (pounds 170m) was part of the expected benefits from the kingdom's 26 October treaty with Israel, but authorisation has been held up in the US Congress.

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