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Arab League ministers urge suspending political contact with Israel

Secretary General of the Arab league Amre Moussa, right, accompanies Arafat at the Arab League meeting in Cairo on Saturday  

From Ben Wedeman
CNN Cairo Bureau Chief

CAIRO, Egypt (CNN) -- Arab League foreign ministers meeting in Cairo, Egypt, have recommended that the group's member nations suspend political contact with Israel as long as "aggression and occupation" continues.

The nine ministers, in a communiqué, announced Saturday they had recommended all Arab countries halt political contact with Israel.

The recommendation is not binding to the league's 22 members. It is up to each individual country to decide what to do.

The recommendation represents a significant step in the Arab position. Earlier, ministers had recommended that contacts be frozen, but an exception had been made for those Arab countries that have diplomatic relations with Israel: Egypt, Jordan and Mauritania.

CNN's Ben Wedeman reports on a recommendation made by Arab League ministers (May 19)

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CNN's Mike Hanna has more on the latest act of violence in the turbulent Mideast (May 18)

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Saturday's call makes no such exception, and the move was endorsed by those nations' ministers.

Raanan Gissin, a senior adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, responded to the announcement: "OK, let's say they sever relations," he told CNN. "And then what? And then what?

"The Arab countries ought to be working to convince Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat to halt the violence and restart the negotiations," Gissin said.

"They're giving [the Palestinians an] incentive to continue with this kind of horrendous attacks," he said. "We're trying to exercise restraint as much as possible, offering an open hand for peace. What we get in return is not just a cold shoulder, but a deliberate intent to intensify the violence."

Arab ministers call on international community

The Arab ministers also issued a call for an international force to act as a buffer between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

"I believe it is the responsibility of the international community to protect the civilian population from the bombardment by fighter bombers and by tanks and rockets," said Arab League Secretary-General Amre Moussa of Egypt.

"This is a major responsibility. Otherwise, the whole international system will be a joke."

The ministers also sought a more active role from the United States in helping to resuscitate the battered peace process.

The Bush administration said Saturday it needed to review the "specific language" of the Arab League recommendation. (More on U.S. response.)

But U.S. officials said no matter what the recommendation contains, severing Arab-Israeli ties would not help bring about an end to the violence in the region.

Violence continues day after suicide bombing, airstrikes

Saturday's Arab League recommendation came the same day that at least two Palestinians were killed, according to Palestinian sources. (More on Mideast violence.)

A Palestinian was shot and killed by Israeli troops in the West Bank town of Nablus after a funeral procession for 11 Palestinians killed Friday in Israeli air strikes, the Palestine Red Crescent Society said. A Palestinian policeman was shot and killed in Jenin early Saturday, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

The air strikes came after a Palestinian suicide bombing killed five Israelis -- as well as the bomber -- and left 100 wounded at a shopping mall in Netanya on Friday.



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