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Egypt Recalls Ambassador to Israel

November 21, 2000

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) _ Citing Israeli ``aggression″ against Palestinians, President Hosni Mubarak on Tuesday ordered Egypt’s ambassador to Israel to return home _ a decision that marks a hardening of attitude in a country that has been a main voice of moderation in the Mideast.

The state Middle East News Agency quoted Foreign Minister Amr Moussa as saying Mubarak told Ambassador Mohammed Bassiouny to return immediately. It said it was not clear when he would go back to his post in Tel Aviv.

``The president decided to recall Ambassador Bassiouny to Cairo immediately after the Israeli escalation of aggression against the Palestinians and their deliberate use of force against the Palestinian people,″ MENA quoted Moussa as saying.

Moussa’s spokesman told The Associated Press the foreign minister would make no immediate further comment.

In Israel, an official at the Egyptian embassy in Tel Aviv confirmed that the ambassador was being recalled and would leave on Wednesday.

In Cairo, Israeli Embassy spokeswoman Ayellet Yehiev, said officials were studying the implications of the Egyptian recall, but that her ambassador would stay in his post.

``As far as we are concerned, we keep (doing) our work here,″ she said.

In retaliation for a school bus bombing that killed two Israelis near a Jewish settlement Monday, Israeli helicopter gunships pounded the Gaza Strip with dozens of rockets in the most punishing strike in two months of fighting. Israeli troops also killed three Palestinians in overnight clashes.

MENA added that Egypt had been angered by Israel’s refusal to allow Egyptian vehicles carrying aid to cross the border into Gaza.

Bassiouny, who has been Egypt’s ambassador to Israel for two decades, was briefly recalled in 1982 after Israel’s invasion of Lebanon.

Egypt and Jordan are the only two of Israel’s neighbors with diplomatic ties with the Jewish state. Fellow Arab League member Mauritania also has diplomatic ties with Israel.

Arabs have pressed their leaders to cut ties with Israel as punishment for what many in the region see as its use of unnecessary force against Palestinians in clashes that have killed more than 240 people _ the vast majority Palestinian _ since September.

Egypt has refused to cut relations that grew out of its 1979 peace treaty with Israel, the first by an Arab state. Mubarak has said dialogue is the only way out of the current Mideast crisis.

Salah Bassiouny, a former Egyptian diplomatic who has worked to improve ties between Egypt and Israel, doubted the recall would be permanent.

``Such a decision should be taken within its proper context,″ said Salah Bassiouny, who is not related to the ambassador. ``When there is an abnormal situation such as excessive use of force, the unbalanced use of force against the Palestinians, it is normal to call the ambassador for consultations. The most you can interpret such action is as a demonstration of discontent, of anger.″

Egyptian political commentator Mohamed Sid Ahmed agreed, saying his government’s step ``is not cutting relations. But it is very obvious the situation is deteriorating.″

Moussa told MENA he would consult with Bassiouny on the situation resulting from the Israeli ``escalation″ against the Palestinian people and with other Arab countries on the next step. Moussa cited an Arab League resolution made at a meeting in Cairo in October calling on Arab states to consider cutting ties with Israel.

With the recall, it was apparent Egypt had met with frustration in its attempts to mediate between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Mubarak met Sunday in Egypt with former Israeli President Ezer Weizman and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s chief security adviser Danny Yatom

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has repeatedly sought Mubarak’s advice during this crisis. But a scheduled visit by Arafat to Egypt on Tuesday, when he was expected to discuss any proposals brought by Weizman and Yatom, was canceled.

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