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The BBC's Jeremy Cooke
"There are finally signs that things are getting better"
 real 56k

Thursday, 19 October, 2000, 15:50 GMT 16:50 UK
Syria wants Arab-Israel ties cut
Arab foreign ministers
Arab foreign ministers at their crisis meeting in Cairo
Syria has called for an end to normalisation of relations with Israel.

The demand comes at the start of a meeting of Arab foreign ministers on the crisis in the Middle East.

Syrian Foreign Minister Faruq al-Shara urged Arab states to end all ties with Israel.


Handshakes between Arabs and Israelis amount to a means of pressure by Israel on Arab parties

Faruq al-Shara, Syrian Foreign Minister

Mr Shara said he "totally supported" the demands of both Faruq al-Qaddumi, a top Palestinian official, and Lebanon's Prime Minister Salim al-Hoss who have called for a break in Arab-Israeli relations.

Emergency summit

The foreign ministers are preparing for an emergency Arab summit on Saturday.

This will be the first such summit since 1996 and the first to which all Arab countries have been invited for a decade.

The meeting of foreign ministers comes at a critical time.

Israelis and Palestinians are taking tentative steps to implement the ceasefire agreement they reached in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on Tuesday.

Sharm el-Sheikh sellout

Syrian Foreign Minister Faruq al-Shara
Syrian Foreign Minister Faruq al-Shara wants to cut Arab links with Israel

The foreign ministers began their meeting with something on which they could all agree, a minute's silence for the Palestinian dead.

The ministers must reach some kind of consensus - despite their widely differing views - over how to respond to the violent events of the past three weeks.

Syria has called for a strong Arab stand, even after the Sharm el-Sheikh agreement, which many Arabs see as a sell-out to Israel.

The Syrian foreign minister, Faruq al-Shara, said Arab countries' relations with Israel had been used against their interests.

Handshake ban

"Any ties with Israel and any handshakes between Arabs and Israelis amount to a means of pressure by Israel on Arab parties," he said.

Egypt, the host country for the summit, which signed the Arab world's first peace treaty with Israel, continues to play a key role mediating between Israel and the Palestinians.

Palestinian protester throws stones at Israeli army jeep
Disturbances are continuing, despite the truce deal

Yet the Egyptian Foreign Minister, Amr Mussa, called for the Palestinians to have complete sovereignty over east Jerusalem.

"There is no alternative to a return of east Jerusalem to Palestinian sovereignty," Mr Mussa said.

Calm words

However, the Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak struck a conciliatory note.

Speaking on state television he said Arab leaders would try to restart peacemaking with Israel, rather than heed calls by Arab demonstrators for war.

"A declaration of war is not a game," Mr Mubarak said. "The concept of war is an ancient one. Issues are only resolved through negotiations and international pressure."

Egypt and Jordan are the only two Arab countries to have signed peace treaties with Israel.

A few others have low-level economic ties with the Jewish state.

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