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Egypt-israel Ties Strained over Isaeli Gaza Reaction

Israel’s relations with Egypt appear shaken over Egyptian concern about Palestinian rioting in the administered territories and Israeli counter-measures.

The friction was further aggravated by a remark attributed to Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Benjamin Netanyahu, considered derogatory of Egypt. Israel’s ambassador to Egypt, Moshe Sasson, was summoned to the Egyptian Foreign Ministry over the weekend to receive a formal protest, which he conveyed to Jerusalem.

Netanyahu reportedly said that Egypt uses tougher measures against demonstrators than Israel does. It is considered likely he will be reprimanded by the Israeli Foreign Ministry, though he was strongly defended Monday by Premier Yitzhak Shamir.

Sasson reported earlier that he has not seen such an anti-Israel atmosphere in Egypt since the 1982 massacre of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps by Phalangist forces. The area was overseen by Israeli troops.

The Egyptians claim the Israelis are acting toward Palestinians in the territories as they did toward those in the West Beirut refugee camps.

Prof. Asher Ovadia, head of the Israeli Academic Center in Cairo, was quoted by an Haaretz correspondent Monday as saying that “If the deterioration in the territories continues and Israel’s response does not change, this will undoubtedly have a negative effect on relations between the two countries.”

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He said he sees no such danger at the moment, but suggested that “sending a senior minister (to Cairo) would certainly contribute to improving the atmosphere and the attitude toward Israel in Egypt.”

He regretted that a proposal to send Ezer Weizman, a Laborite minister, was rejected by Shamir last week. Weizman has long maintained close diplomatic and personal relations with Egyptian leaders.

Serving as acting foreign minister last week while Foreign Minister Shimon Peres was abroad, Weizman met with the Egyptian ambassador to Israel, Mohammed Bassiouny, who told him the situation in the territories has produced a difficult atmosphere in Cairo and expressed great concern.

Peres said Sunday night that “we must tell the Egyptians, the Jordanians and Israeli Arabs that most of the incidents in Judea, Samaria and Gaza were initiated and executed by those who opposed and continue to oppose the continuation of the peace process.”

Last week, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Murphy warned Peres in New York that as a result of its rapprochement with the Arab world, Egypt would distance itself from Israel. Most Arab countries that broke diplomatic relations with Cairo because of its 1979 peace treaty with Israel restored them following the Arab summit conference in Amman last October.

Meanwhile, Haaretz reported Monday that the Foreign Ministry is preparing to reprimand Netanyahu for his remarks, considered offensive by Egypt. The reprimand will be conveyed by Yehezkel Barnea, director of the ministry’s International Organizations Division, after further consultations with Avraham Tamir, director-general of the Foreign Ministry, Haaretz said.

Shamir, addressing the Jeane Kirkpatrick Forum at Tel Aviv University Monday, said he hoped there would be no reprimand. He praised Netanyahu, a fellow member of Herut, as “the most important, successful and most brilliant representative Israel had in the international arena” and said he should be encouraged and supported in full.

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