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Egypt Limits Official Contact With Israel

Egyptian Information Minister Safwat el-Sherif told the Middle East News Agency on Wednesday, ”Egypt will suspend all diplomatic contacts with Israel except those that serve the Palestinian cause.”

The decision means official communications between the two countries will be curtailed and the Israeli ambassador, while allowed to stay in Cairo, will not be contacted.

The Egyptian government recalled its ambassador to Tel Aviv in November 2000, protesting Israel’s response to a Palestinian uprising.

The move comes as Arab League ministers announced plans for an emergency meeting to discuss the escalating violence. A group spokesman said representatives from the 22-member league will convene in Cairo this weekend.

Last week, the Arab League accepted a Saudi Arabian plan for Mideast peace that offered Israel normal relations with the Arab world if it pulled out of lands seized in the 1967 Mideast war. Israel would also have to recognize an independent Palestinian state and come to a “just solution” for an estimated 3.6 million Palestinian refugees. That decision came just before the latest Israeli incursions into Palestinian territory and its takeover of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s compound.

Egypt’s diplomatic break did not keep protests from erupting in the region. Some 2,000 students demonstrated at Cairo University, calling on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to expel Israel’s representatives and close the country’s embassy.

“The anger at Israel and the American government, as seen in these demonstrations is huge,” Hassan Nafaa, head of Cairo University’s political science department told Reuters. “I have never seen anything like this.”

In Beirut, police used batons, water cannons and tear gas to control thousands of people who rallied in front of the American Embassy, demanding the U.S. take a “more balanced” role in the Mideast. Protests were also reported in Tunisia and Jordan.

Meanwhile, representatives from Islamic nations meeting in Malaysia adopted an agreement to denounce terrorism “in all its forms,” but failed to achieve their main objective of defining terrorism. That, they said, was a task for the United Nations.

“It is not for us to define international terrorism but for the international community,” Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Mohamad Zarif told the Associated Press.

At the conference’s conclusion, representatives from the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference issued a five-page statement condemning terrorism while defending Palestinian suicide bombers.

Delegates quickly divided over a proposal by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad to label any attack targeting civilians, including suicide bombings, as terrorism. Palestinian and other Mideast delegates objected.

The group’s final declaration instead said, “We reject any attempt to link terrorism to the struggle of the Palestinian people in the exercise of their inalienable right to establish their independent state.”

Conference delegates also announced their support for the Saudi-backed Mideast peace plan adopted by Arab League leaders last week in Lebanon, but Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar said recent Israeli military moves in Palestinian-controlled areas demonstrate “the practice of state terrorism.”

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