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Israeli-egyptian Ties in Decline over Impasse in Peace Process

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has canceled a scheduled meeting with the Egyptian foreign minister, a move that reflected worsening tensions between Cairo and Jerusalem.

The meeting between Netanyahu and Amre Moussa was to have taken place Monday in Lisbon, where the two were to observe a summit meeting of the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe.

The 52-member organization brings together NATO countries and former members of the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact to discuss security and human rights issues.

During his trip to Lisbon, Netanyahu is slated to hold separate meetings with French President Jacques Chirac, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and British Prime Minister John Major. Netanyahu is also scheduled to visit Madrid and Dublin this week.

Israel’s growing tensions with Egypt come amid repeated statements from Cairo that Israel is to blame for the current impasse in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations for handing over most of the West Bank town of Hebron to self- rule.

The negotiations have dragged on for two months, with each side blaming the other for delaying an agreement.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said Saturday that he would seek international arbitration in an effort to force Israel to conclude an agreement.

Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai met Sunday with Egyptian Ambassador Mohammed Basiouny in an effort to reduce the tensions with Cairo. During the meeting, Mordechai called on Egypt to act as a “bridge” between Israel and the Arab parties to the peace process.

Cairo served as the setting Sunday for a meeting of the Arab League to discuss the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process. A Palestinian representative told the meeting that the policies of the current Israeli government threatened to reignite violence in the region.

In Hebron, meanwhile, the absence of an agreement is creating further unrest in the already volatile town. On Saturday, Palestinians scuffled with Israeli soldiers and settlers in the West Bank town, with each side claiming the other started the incident.

Nine Palestinians were arrested and several hurt, according to news reports.

The scuffles took place as Palestinians demonstrated throughout the West Bank, calling on Israel to release Arab prisoners from its jails. Arab marches and sit-ins took place Saturday in all the main West Bank cities.

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