- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 22, 2000

Egypt, the first Arab nation to make peace with Israel, yesterday recalled its ambassador to Tel Aviv in a move that one Palestinian official said left the Arab-Israeli peace process "clinically dead."

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak recalled Ambassador Mohammed Bassiouni from Israel for immediate consultations because of what he called Israel's "excessive use of force" against the Palestinians.

Israel had launched helicopter assaults on Palestinian police and military targets Monday night in retaliation for the bombing of an Israeli school bus in the Gaza Strip, which killed two adults and injured nine persons, five of them children.

U.S. and Israeli officials called on Egypt not to end its role as a mediator between Israel and the Palestinians.

Violence continued in the West Bank and Gaza Strip yesterday, with the death toll since Sept. 28 reaching 257, most of them Palestinians.

Israeli troops killed five Palestinians in clashes while another died from his wounds, hospital officials said. More than 20 Palestinians were wounded in clashes in the Gaza Strip, most of them at Khan Yunis near the Gush Katif group of Jewish settlements.

At the same time, a 19-year-old Israeli settler, hit by Palestinian gunfire in the Gaza Strip, died of his wounds, hospital officials said.

He was wounded as his car came under fire near the Jewish settlement of Kfar Darom, near where the Israeli school bus was bombed Monday.

The Egyptian recall sparked Palestinian hopes that Arab neighbors would come to their aid in fighting the Israelis.

"Oh Mubarak, oh my love, go strike Tel Aviv" jubilant Palestinians shouted in Rafah along the Egyptian border.

"We and Egypt are on the path of fire" chanted others, many firing guns in the air or waving Egyptian flags.

Egypt decided to recall its ambassador after weeks of resisting calls from Iran, Iraq and militant groups for it to break all relations with Israel.

"The Egyptian move to pull out its ambassador is a clear message to the United States and the Israeli government that … the situation between Israel and the Arab world has reached an unacceptable level," Nabil Abu Rudeina, senior aide to Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, told a press conference.

The chief Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qureia, also known as Abu Ala, said: "The peace process is clinically dead now."

And in a further escalation of tensions, a Palestinian Authority leader said police would now be authorized to fire on Israeli troops to protect Palestinian demonstrators if they came under attack.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak expressed regret at the crumbling of what had been the cornerstone of the Arab-Israeli peace process the Egyptian-Israeli peace forged at Camp David in 1979.

"We can just hope at a certain time [Mr. Mubarak] will be back," Mr. Barak told a news conference.

"I would not exaggerate the immediate consequences of such a step, but of course we regret it… .

"I don't think it's possible that we go to war" with Egypt, Mr. Barak added.

Egypt is the most populous Arab nation and it bore the brunt of the fighting and the losses in Arab-Israeli wars in 1948, 1956, 1967 and 1973.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa said the recall was a sign of Egypt's "extreme displeasure" at Israel's handling of the Palestinian revolt, and indicated that its ambassador would not be returning to Tel Aviv any time soon.

Jordan, the only other Arab country to have signed a full peace treaty with Israel and establish diplomatic relations, is also refusing to send a replacement to Israel for its recently retired ambassador.

Jordan's King Abdullah II yesterday asked President Clinton by phone to "intervene to stop Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people," the official Petra news agency reported.

The king told visiting Defense Secretary William S. Cohen that he condemned "Israeli aggression" in the Gaza Strip and asked for international protection for the Palestinians. He also asked for an immediate end to Israeli economic sanctions that have blocked Palestinian movements and commerce.

Mr. Cohen's spokesman, Kenneth Bacon, said the secretary was concerned that violence "will spread around the region."

"The whole region is angry and upset about what is going on. The safest thing to do is pull back."

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher yesterday condemned the school bus attack but implied that Israel had overreacted with its helicopter reprisals.

"We condemn this heinous attack on a school bus filled with innocent children," he said yesterday.

"In addition, while we're pressing the Palestinians, we think the Israelis also need to understand that the use of excessive force is not the right way to go."

Mr. Boucher said the Egyptian ambassador in Israel "played a very important role in Egypt's efforts to bring about peace in the region, and we hope that he will return to his post as soon as possible."

The State Department spokesman also echoed calls for an end to economic sanctions on the Palestinians.

"I think basically we don't believe that squeezing the Palestinians economically is the right course of action," he said.

After nightfall, Israeli military transporters were seen delivering tanks and armored personnel carriers to army bases in Gaza.

"I don't want to delude anyone. We are not on a picnic," Mr. Barak said while visiting Israeli army headquarters in Gaza. "We are in a struggle. If we have to fight, we will know how to fight."

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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