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Egypt recalls ambassador to Israel over latest Middle East violence
Aide: Arafat has 'very tiny' hopes for peace
CNN Correspondent Jerrold Kessel and CNN Jerusalem Bureau Chief Mike Hanna contributed to this report.
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- In a sign of rising tensions in the Middle East, Egypt recalled its ambassador to Israel on Tuesday, prompting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak to express his unhappiness about that move.
"We can just hope at a certain time he will be back," Barak said of the ambassador. "I would not exaggerate the immediate consequences of such a step, but of course we regret it."
Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat visited wounded Palestinians in Gaza on Tuesday, accompanied by one of his top security men.
"Yasser Arafat is still committed to the peace process," Arafat security officer Mohammed Dahlan told CNN. "He has still a tiny, a very tiny hope for the peace process."
Meanwhile, at least two Palestinians died in scattered overnight fighting with Israelis in the West Bank and Gaza, where an Israeli also was shot and killed along an Israeli-controlled road.
Egypt's recall came a day after Israeli helicopters fired missiles on Palestinian targets in Gaza City as retaliation for the bombing of a school bus filled with Jewish settlers. Two adults were killed and nine people, including five children, were injured in the bus attack.
Although the recall is not a break in Egyptian-Israeli relations, officials in Cairo said they were sending a signal.
"This step ... constitutes a very basic and important message," said Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa. "I hope that the Israelis understand that. We can't take it (any) more ... the aggressive acts, not only the excessive use of force but the use of force that we have seen against the civilian population, against the Palestinians in their territories."
The Palestinian Authority had denied it was responsible for Monday's bus bombing, although three pro-Palestinian groups did claim responsibility: Palestinian Hezbollah, al-Aqsa Martyrs and Omar al-Mukhtar.
Egypt's recall of its ambassador in Tel Aviv was only the second such action in the two nations' 20-year peace partnership. Cairo said the recall was for "consultations," which may last for an extended period. But Palestinian officials said the recall was in protest of Monday's helicopter strike in Gaza City.
Targets included buildings near Arafat's seaside office, the headquarters of his Fatah faction and an office of the Palestinian Preventive Security Force, a police and counter-terrorism unit formed under the Oslo peace agreement with Israel.
Hospital officials said one Palestinian was killed and 125 Palestinians were wounded during the Israeli attack.
Israeli officials taken aback
Israeli officials said they were taken aback by the recall, expressing regret about Egypt's decision and hope that Cairo would soon return him to Tel Aviv.
Israel said it did not plan to recall its ambassador to Egypt.
The first time Egypt recalled its ambassador was after Israel's military occupation of Southern Lebanon in 1982.
Jordan is the only other Arab nation with full diplomatic relations with Israel.
Each side blames other
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's action had little to do with consultations.
"What President Mubarak is doing is recalling their ambassador in response to the continued Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people, against excessive use of force," Erakat told CNN. "And the message he's sending is that Egypt and the Arabs cannot take this any longer."
Israeli Foreign Ministry official Alon Liel downplayed concerns that Egypt's ambassador recall might foreshadow an international spread of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has left more than 250 people, mostly Palestinians, dead since September 28.
"We have this violent conflict for eight weeks already ... and there was no spillover, not to Jordan, not to Lebanon, definitely not to Egypt," Liel told CNN. "It's between us and the Palestinians. Arafat decided to go back to the armed struggle. We're very sorry about it. We feel that we are not responsible for it and we hope very much he will come back very soon to his senses and things will go back to the process we had in the last seven years."
Just two days before the bus bombing, Arafat called for an end to Palestinian attacks on Israelis in areas under full Palestinian control.
Fighting continues Tuesday
In scattered clashes Tuesday, an Israeli motorist died after Palestinian gunmen opened fire on his car. He died later at a hospital in Beersheba.
Earlier Tuesday, a Palestinian died in what hospital officials said was a shooting incident at the Deir Balah refugee camp in Gaza. And a 19-year-old Palestinian was shot in the chest and died at Burkin village near Jenine in the West Bank, hospital officials said.
Palestinian hospital officials in Gaza City said one other Palestinian had died of a bullet wound to the head, although circumstances surrounding his death were unknown.
Hospital officials in Gaza also reported two other Palestinian deaths also under unknown circumstances.
Israel launches helicopter gun ship strikes in Gaza after bus attack
The Jerusalem aa Web site
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