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Justice Minister Meir Sheetrit said Tuesday that Israel should buy the Golan Heights from Syria as a way of keeping hold of the strategic plateau.

"We have to find an original way to keep the Golan Heights in Israeli hands in the future," minister Meir Sheetrit said during the opening of a courthouse in Katzrin, the largest Israeli settlement in the Golan.

"One of the proposals is to buy the Golan from Syria," he said. "I will be the first to join this effort, and I am ready to have my salary cut to help buy the Golan."

Israel captured the swathe of land from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War. It was annexed in 1981 and populated by settlers. In all, about 18,000 Israelis live there along with some 17,000 Druze Arabs.

Numerous attempts to negotiate Syrian-Israeli peace have collapsed over the Golan question. Both sides got close to an agreement in 2000, but talks fell apart over Syria's rejection of an Israeli demand to keep the Sea of Galilee's eastern shore, which lies at the foot of the heights.

Sheetrit said the idea of buying the land could settle the issue. "The idea was carried out in the past when the Americans bought Alaska from the Russians," he said.

The Golan Heights, Sheetrit said, is not populated by Syrians and so has less importance to them, while being vital to Israel's security.

"We developed the settlements, and we are a small country that needs territory," he said.

Last Thursday, hundreds of Arab residents on either side of the Israeli-Syrian cease-fire line held a demonstration to protest Israel's presence, chanting together: "With our blood and soul, we sacrifice ourselves for the Golan."