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Anger With Israel

Representatives of Arab countries have demanded Arab governments must sever all contact with Israel until the Jewish state ceases military action against Palestinians, throwing into doubt whether Egypt and Jordan would continue efforts to mediate an Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire.

A meeting of Arab foreign ministers and delegates on Saturday made the recommendation. Arab League calls are not binding on governments, but the foreign ministers and other senior officials at the meeting were believed to have been in contact with the highest levels of their governments during the eight-hour gathering.

"The meeting called for severing all Arab political communication with Israel as long as the aggression of the siege on the Palestinian people and their national authority continues," according to a statement issued at the end of the emergency meeting.

Lending weight to the call were the two men who made it, Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa, who spent years mediating with the Israelis and Palestinians as Egypt's foreign minister, and Jordanian Foreign Minister Abdul-Illah Khatib.

Jordan and Egypt are the only Arab countries to have signed peace agreements with Israel. Both also have been pushing hard for a diplomatic resolution to the latest violence, which has left more than 500 dead since Sept. 28.

"Our intention is not to talk about or fall in the trap of talking about peace proposals while we see that the Israeli government does not really mean it," Moussa said. "The attacks against the Palestinians will have to stop, otherwise we will be acting under the point of the gun which we totally and utterly reject."

Khatib did not answer directly when asked whether Jordan's diplomatic efforts would now end, instead saying, the move "reflects the uselessness of political contacts that do not succeed in stopping the violence and lifting the siege on the Palestinian people."

There was no immediate comment from the Egyptian foreign ministry.

In its statement, the Arab League committee criticized the Israeli government for its reluctance to accept cease-fire proposals including an Egyptian-Jordanian initiative.

Like the Egyptian-Jordanian proposal, the committee called on Israel to freeze settlement construction. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has been an advocate for Jewish settlers, resisting efforts to halt construction.

Earlier Saturday, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat told the Arab League gathering in Cairo that the conflict has escalated into a "decisive battle for Palestine." Moussa had described recent Israeli actions as "systematic killing of the Palestinians with the aim of exterminating them."

Moussa also reiterated Arab calls for an international peacekeeping force in the Palestinian territories - a proposal that Israel and the United States have rejected. In all, 468 Palestinians and 84 Israelis have been killed since September.

Anger in the Arab world s at fever pitch as Israeli-Palestinian fighting has escalated to the use of F-16 warplane attacks, which Israel used Friday in retaliation for a suicide bombing.

Arafat said Israel's military escalation had created a "critical" situation with "enormous losses," with financial losses surpassing $5 billion. The Arab League committee also called on Moussa to ensure immediate financial support to the Palestinian Authority and it urged public donations into a bank account under Arab League supervision.

During the committee meeting, Moussa said Israel's policy "aims for the submission of Palestine."

"The resistance and the intefadeh will continue whatever the price may be," said Moussa, who became Arab League chief earlier this week after 10 years as Egypt's foreign minister. "We cannot, under any circumstances, accept an Israeli peace," he added.

The committee meeting had been scheduled for later this month, but Palestinians asked for it to be brought forward because of the escalating violence.

The countries that attended the talks at the League's headquarters in Cairo were Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen.

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