Arabs seek to halt Israel contacts
CAIRO, Egypt (CNN) -- Arab League ministers meeting in Cairo, Egypt, on Saturday urged suspending ties with Israel, as at least two Palestinians died in Mideast violence, according to Palestinian sources.
The nine ministers, including those of Egypt and Jordan, issued a non-binding recommendation that the league's 22 nations suspend political ties until violence stops. It will be left up to each nation to decide whether to sever relations. Rannan Gissin, senior adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, promptly decried the move.
Meanwhile, one 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, Palestine Red Crescent Society sources said. There was no comment from Israel on that report.
Those 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. Hamas claimed responsibility for the bombing.
A Palestinian policeman was shot and killed in Jenin early Saturday, according to the Israel Defense Forces. Israeli military said gunfire erupted after two Palestinian policemen approached two Israeli soldiers.
An Israeli soldier "shot toward the Palestinian policemen, a third Palestinian policeman neared the car and opened fire toward the Force. Soldiers then threw a grenade toward the policemen," said an IDF statement.
Palestinian sources reported a third death, however, of a farmer at Karni Crossing. That report was disputed by Israel Defense Forces, which said the farmer, armed with a Kalashnikov rifle, had been shot in the leg as a warning.
In addition, the IDF said four mortar bombs were fired at a Jewish IDF settlement of Gush Katif in Gaza, but no one was injured.
Meanwhile, the Palestine Red Crescent Society reported that up to 30 people, many of them civilians, have been injured in Israeli helicopter attacks in the West Bank towns of Jenin and Tulkarem. Israeli officials, however, say the Saturday attacks were targeted solely against Palestinian Security Forces headquarters there.
Mitchell calls for cooling-off period
Both the Israelis and Palestinians are considering recommendations to end the crisis issued by a U.S.-sponsored fact- finding commission, headed by former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell.
In an interview with CNN's "Diplomatic License" program, to be aired Sunday, Mitchell reiterated his call for an "immediate and unconditional cessation of violence" and resumption of security cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians.
"They had that cooperation during the several years of the Oslo [peace] process," he said. "Both sides agree it worked well. Both sides would like to resume it. They can't do it now under the existing circumstances."
Mitchell said the commission is proposing a series of steps to rebuild confidence, including a cooling-off period without violence, followed by negotiations.
U.S., Russian leaders address violence
Russian President Vladimir Putin told Sharon by phone Saturday that Israel and the Palestinians must take immediate steps to relieve the tensions, but told him that, "the clearly improper use of Israeli military force is impossible to justify or to explain."
Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo blamed the Americans for the violence, saying a statement by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell was not direct enough in telling the Israelis that the violence was unacceptable.
In Washington, U.S. President George W. Bush said the violence was counterproductive to the effort to reach a peace agreement between the two sides.
"We must break the cycle of violence in order to begin meaningful discussions about any kind of political settlement," Bush said. "My administration will continue to work with the parties involved, reminding folks that violence will not lead to peace."
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