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Wednesday, 3 April, 2002, 17:36 GMT 18:36 UK
Egypt scales down Israel contacts
Anti-Israel protesters in Cairo
Egyptians have been calling for action against Israel
Egypt is suspending contacts with Israel apart from diplomatic channels which could help the Palestinians, the government has announced.

Egyptian Information Minister Safwat el-Sherif said Egypt would restrict ties with Israel to those that "served the Palestinian cause".

Take immediate action that will stop as soon as possible the violent military campaign undertaken by Israel to occupy Palestinian controlled areas

President Mubarak's message to President Bush
Egypt and Jordan are the only two Arab states which have full diplomatic ties with Israel.

An Israeli official dismissed Egypt's decision as a symbolic gesture. He said relations between the two countries were not extensive and that the Egyptian move would not deflect Israel from what he called its war on terror.

Angry protests

Egypt recalled its ambassador to Tel Aviv, leaving only a charge d'affaires, more than a year ago to protest at the violence that erupted in September 2000.

Egyptians have been staging mass protests for days to apply pressure on their government to take action against Israel.

Protester in Amman
There have been protests in Jordan too

They have been demanding that Cairo expel Israel's ambassador in retaliation for the Israeli crackdown on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

But the Israeli embassy will stay open and the ambassador will remain.

In Jordan, where there have also been angry protests against Israel and the foreign minister has threatened that his country will take undisclosed measures against the Jewish state.

Crucial relations

Unnamed officials have suggested that the Israeli ambassador could be expelled, though they made it clear that diplomatic ties would remain.

Officials in both Jordan and Egypt say that retaining ties with Israel is useful for the quest for peace in the region.

But the BBC's Heba Saleh in Cairo says the two countries also do not want to jeopardise their crucial relations with the United States, which is a major aid donor for both.

Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak sent a personal message to US President George W Bush urging him to "take immediate action that will stop as soon as possible the violent military campaign undertaken by Israel to occupy Palestinian controlled areas," the official Egyptian news agency MENA reported.

See also:

01 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
Israel 'dragging Mid-East into war'
03 Apr 02 | Middle East
US sends mixed signals on Mid-East
02 Apr 02 | Middle East
Analysis: Arafat under attack
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