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Monday, March 9, 1998 Published at 15:10 GMT

World: Middle East

Israel and Jordan resume high-level contacts
image: [ The Israeli Infrastructure Minister, Ariel Sharon, with Crown Prince Hassan ]
The Israeli Infrastructure Minister, Ariel Sharon, with Crown Prince Hassan

High-level talks have been taking place between senior figures in Israel and Jordan - the first such contacts since Israel infuriated King Hussein by attempting to assassinate a senior Hamas official in Jordan last year.

On Monday, the Israeli Trade Minister, Nathan Sharansky, went to the Jordanian capital, Amman, for talks on overcoming obstacles to greater commercial contacts between the two countries.

It was the second such visit in 24 hours. The Israeli Infrastructure Minister, Ariel Sharon, met King Hussein in Amman on Sunday.

Jordanian officials said Sharon's visit was a follow-up on recent meetings to discuss joint infrastructure projects along the border between the two countries and to agree on speeding up implementation of water schemes which Jordan says are a crucial part of its 1994 peace treaty with Israel.

The contacts between the two sides follow the recent appointment of Efrayim Halevi as the new chief of the Israeli secret service, Mossad, in the wake of the resignation of the former head, Danny Yatom.

Despite growing Arab hostility to Israel since the election of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in 1996, King Hussein has persevered with relations with the Jewish state.

Hamas release

However, he strongly criticised Israel after the attempted assassination of a Hamas official, Khaled Meshaal, by Mossad agents last September, and demanded that Mr Netanyahu release the ailing spiritual leader of Hamas, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin - a call which the Israeli government acceded to.

In a further sign that the chill in relations between the two countries is ending, Crown Prince Hassan of Jordan is to meet the Israeli Prime Minister on Tuesday.

They're are expected to focus on efforts to restart the Middle East peace process; the Jordanian prince on Monday discussed the deadlock in the talks with the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat at a meeting in the West Bank town of Ramallah.


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