Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin has committed Israel to withdraw from the Golan Heights within three years, Jewish settlers said Thursday, citing government sources.
Syria is demanding that Israel return the Golan, captured in 1967, as a precondition to negotiating a peace treaty.A spokesman for Rabin denied the settlers' claims that he outlined withdrawal plans in talks with American diplomats who conveyed his promise to Syria.
Israel has said it is ready to move many of its troops from the Golan Heights, but Rabin has never said publicly how much of the strategic highland overlooking northern Israel he is willing to give back.
According to the settlers, 25 settlements are to be dismantled in the first stage of withdrawal and the remaining seven during the three-year withdrawal.
"The negotiations between Syria and Israel are in the most advanced stages . . . and a breakthrough is expected in the very near future," said a statement issued by the Golan Settlers Committee.
Settler leaders said after an emergency meeting Wednesday night that they would begin a protest campaign starting Saturday night with a rally in the Golan town of Katzrin.
Citing sources in Rabin's office and the military, settler leader Eli Malka said Rabin has already committed himself to full withdrawal in talks with the Americans.
"The Americans . . . delivered this to the Syrians, including details on complete withdrawal from the Golan and evacuation of all the settlements," Malka said on Israel radio.
Rabin spokesman Oded Ben-Ami denied that.
"Rabin committed himself to a withdrawal on the Golan Heights, but without discussing the dimensions of withdrawal unless we will have an exact determination of the terms of peace on the Syrian side," Ben-Ami told The Associated Press.
In interviews this week, Rabin said that after Israel withdrew partially, there should be a testing period of three years for the countries to establish free trade and travel and exchange ambassadors.
Only then would Israeli troops pull back to a final line to be established in negotiations.
Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Sharaa said during a visit to Britain that his country is ready for full peace with Israel but only after a complete Israeli pullout from the Golan.
Israeli newspapers said Sharaa, responding to questions from an Israeli reporter, also said Syria was ready to establish relations. He said a Syria-Israel summit was "inevitable."