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Arab Leaders to Discuss Reponse to Israel's Cutting Ties With Arafat

Arab League ministers may hold an emergency meeting soon to discuss a response to Israel's decision to severe ties with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Meanwhile, Egypt's foreign minister is asking for international intervention.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher said Arab leaders will soon consult on short and long-term measures to be taken in response to Israel severing ties with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

The foreign minister would not indicate what those measures might be, but said, "there are many avenues that are open." He called for the international community to intervene on behalf of the Palestinian people.

"Yasser Arafat is the democratically elected leader of the Palestinian people and he does not carry relevancy because Israel says he is relevant or not relevant. He is the leader of the Palestinian people and the attack against him personally is an aggression against the whole Palestinian people. I think it is incumbent on all the countries, who are willing or desirous, to help the Middle East reach peace and security and stability, to intervene, to stop this new aggression by the Israeli government against the will of the Palestinian people, against the will of the international community and against the security of the Israeli people themselves," Mr. Maher said.

Arab League spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi, a former aide to Yasser Arafat, told VOA the latest Israeli action will not stop the Palestinian quest for statehood.

"There are people here with a cause, a nation that wants to be free. So no matter what Israel does we are not going to disappear. Our rights are not going to disappear and our yearning for freedom is not going to disappear," she said.

Ms. Ashrawi said she fears the Middle East will be drawn into a regional war.

Egyptian political analyst Hassan Nafae says he believes Israel's latest action is going to create a very dangerous atmosphere throughout the Middle East. He believes the action will prevent Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon from reaching peace with anyone in the region.

"This means if he can not reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians he will not be able to reach an agreement with Syria, he will not be able to reach an agreement with Lebanon and this is the beginning of another escalation that may lead to a real war in the Middle East. He has to deal with Arafat or end, officially, the peace process in the Middle East," Mr. Nafae said.

The head of the al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, Abdel Moneim Sa'id, said the latest developments will seriously hamper peace efforts being led by U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni.

"I think the United States understands fully the situation in the region and they know very well that this kind of new Israeli position and its consequences will affect, very negatively, the American initiative and the presence of Zinni in the Middle East and the region," he said.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher said Arab states are consulting and may hold an emergency meeting of the Arab League follow-up committee on Palestinian issues.

He also indicated he planned to telephone Secretary of State Colin Powell to discuss the latest developments.