Egypt Limits Ties With Israel

Egypt announced Wednesday it was limiting diplomatic contacts with Israel, but did not sever ties despite pressure from protesters, who have clashed with police in angry demonstrations against Israel's offensive in the West Bank.

Egypt will suspend all diplomatic contacts with Israel except those that "serve the Palestinian cause," Information Minister Safwat el-Sherif said, quoted by Egypt's official Middle East News Agency.

It was not immediately clear what sort of contacts would be ended under the decision. Despite their 1979 peace treaty, Egyptian-Israeli ties are cool and they have long had few contacts beyond diplomatic ones. Economic exchanges are limited and cultural ones nearly non-existent.

Israeli Embassy spokesman Madav Cohen said the embassy would have no comment until it had been officially informed of the move.

But the step fell short of a full cutting of diplomatic ties and freezing of the peace treaty. Pressure has mounted on Egypt to do so as Israel expands its offensive against the Palestinians, launched Friday in response to a series of major suicide attacks against Israelis.

Protesters in Egypt and other Arab nations have demanded Egypt expel the Israeli ambassador, and demonstrators in Cairo have clashed with police in recent days. And a top Palestinian official said Tuesday it may be time for Egypt and Jordan to end their ties with Israel.

Egypt, which signed its peace deal in 1979, has been reluctant to cut ties that it says are an important way to influence Israeli policy. Egypt's stance as a moderate and a mediator in the peace process are also central to its ties with the United States. Jordan signed its peace deal with Israel in 1994.

Egypt recalled its ambassador to Tel Aviv, leaving only a charge d'affaires, more than a year ago to protest the violence that erupted in September 2000.

Israel's former ambassador to Egypt, has Zvi Mazel, bemoaned the lost opportunities for investment between the neighboring nations when he left his post last year. There has been some cooperation in agriculture, with Israeli technology, fertilizers and pesticides benefitting Egypt's farm sector.

Individual exchanges are even fewer. Egypt's professional syndicates have expelled members for visited Israel. Egyptian actors and singers vehemently denounce claims they visited Israel as malicious rumors meant to damage their reputation. During the past 18 months of violence, even the flood of young Israelis to Sinai beach resorts near the border has slowed to almost nothing.