Arab League Calls on Arab Governments to Sever Contact with Israel

As a rapid-fire round of deadly Israeli-Palestinian clashes shook the Middle East this weekend, Arab representatives demanded their governments sever all contact with Israel until the Jewish military stopped targeting Palestinians.

In spite of pleas from the U.S. and other nations for an end to the violence, Israeli helicopters rained ammunition on Palestinian police headquarters in two West Bank towns Saturday.

No Palestinians died in the rocket attack on police, but three were killed in separate incidents as violence erupted in various Arab territories.

"Our intention is not to fall in the trap of talking about peace proposals while we see that the Israeli government does not really mean it," said Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa, one of the two leaders who initiated the move to cut ties. "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."

Meanwhile at least 10 people were killed and 50 injured in Yemen Saturday when a bomb went off in a weapons market selling guns and gunpowder in the western part of the country.

The weekend bloodshed and air strikes in the towns of Tulkarem and Jenin were an apparent retaliation for a fatal suicide bombing Friday near Tel Aviv that took five Israeli lives as well as that of the Palestinian bomber. In return, Israeli warplanes conducted an air raid Friday that killed 12 Palestinians, and helicopters continued to shower Palestinian territories after the air strike victims were being buried.

Friday's attack was Israel's harshest response yet in eight months of fighting and marked the first time since the 1967 Mideast war that the Jewish state attacked Palestinian targets with warplanes.

Palestinians said Saturday that Israel had given the Bush administration prior information of the air strike on Friday. But a spokesman at the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv denied the United States knew about the raid beforehand.

In Cairo, members of the 22-nation Arab League issued a statement calling on all Arab governments to sever contact with Israel until the Jewish state halts military action against Palestinians. The move casts doubt on whether Egypt and Jordan, the only Arab countries to have signed peace agreements with Israel, would continue efforts to mediate a cease-fire.

The raids came in reaction to Friday’s explosion near Tel Aviv that killed six, including the Palestinian suicide bomber, Mahmoud Ahmed Marmash an activist in the Islamic resistance movement Hamas.

As the fresh fighting continued throughout the Middle East, international calls mounted for a cessation of violence.

Russian President Vladimir Putin called Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Saturday to ask that "all measures" be taken to stop the fighting, Putin's office said. The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Israel's air strike on Friday was "clearly improper use of military force."

On Friday, President Bush said that the violence makes it "so difficult for there to be any political settlement." Secretary of State Colin Powell called for "an unconditional cessation of violence" and urged Middle East leaders to speak out more directly against violence.

In Cairo, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat told the Arab League meeting that Israel's air strikes had created a "critical" situation with "enormous losses."

"Dear brothers, this is the decisive battle for Palestine," Arafat said.

In Saturday's helicopter strike, about 30 Palestinians were injured in Tulkarem when missiles hit security headquarters. Three buildings and seven vehicles were heavily damaged. No one was injured in the Jenin strike, which targeted offices of the elite Force 17 guard and intelligence forces.

The Israeli army said in an announcement that the strikes were part of a fight against "Palestinian terror."

Violence erupted Saturday at several points in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, just after funerals ended for the 12 Palestinians air raid victims.

"A million martyrs will march toward Jerusalem," tens of thousands of Palestinians chanted in the West Bank city of Nablus as they paraded behind police pickup trucks carrying the flag-draped bodies of 11 of the victims.

Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo charged that the United States was "primarily responsible for the escalation of Israeli aggression against our people."

"Israel's military attack yesterday would not have taken place without the prior notification of the U.S. administration," Abed Rabbo said in a news release.

A spokesman for the U.S. embassy, Larry Schwartz, refuted Abed Rabbo's accusation. "I strongly deny that the United States was given prior notification," Schwartz said.

Hinting that the Bush administration may have put off plans for a meeting this week between Arafat and Powell, Abed Rabbo said the Americans had turned the meeting into "a bargaining chip."

The Palestinians have lobbied hard for a meeting between Powell and Arafat. The Bush administration warmly welcomed Sharon in an official visit to Washington in March.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.