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Arabs urged to help Israel combat `terror'

The foreign ministers of Egypt and Jordan are likely to be asked to join Israel in an "alliance against terror" when they visit Washington next week for talks with US Secretary of State, Warren Christopher.

Their meeting will follow Thursday night's Israeli-Jordanian-Egyptian-PLO summit in Cairo at which the Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, urged the Arab leaders to "eradicate" Muslim radical groups opposed to the "peace process" - but without making any concessions over further Jewish settlement building on Arab land or a date for Palestinian elections.

Even normally optimistic Egyptian government officials could not disguise their depression at the summit's outcome which, they said, gave nothing to the Arabs in return for a generalised promise from the PLO, Egypt and Jordan to "put an end" to "terror and violence". President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, who had hitherto refused to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty unless Israel signed too, had to accept an equally vague promise of a future Middle East "zone" that would be free of "weapons of mass destruction" - a zone which presumably cannot exist as long as Israel believes that Iran and Iraq still plan to acquire nuclear arms.

Mr Christopher welcomed the results of the summit, predictably focusing on the leaders' decision to "stand firmly together against those who would try to stop the march towards peace". Arab newspaper editorialists have already identified this aspect of the negotiations - which in effect injects a war against Islamic "terror" into the Declaration of Principles signed in 1993 - as both dangerous and a diversion from the original aims of the peace agreements. Ignoring Palestinian demands for an end to settlement building on their land, a State Department official said only that Palestinians "could do more"' to provide security for Israel.

In Cairo, the Egyptian Islamic opposition paper al-Shaab claimed that Arab leaders had committed "a new folly" by agreeing to Israeli demands when they should have been insisting on the return of occupied Arab land in return for peace. In Damascus, Islamic Jihad in Palestine - responsible for the suicide bombings last month at Natanya which killed 21 Israelis, 20 of them soldiers - defined the summit as an attempt by Mr Rabin to save his Labour-dominated government while "killing the seeds of a newly awakened Arab unity".

Such rhetoric might be expected from Islamic Jihad. Of more interest is the way in which Egyptian newspapers, even those supporting the Mubarak regime, now openly criticise the "peace process" as a debacle. "Is Israel still committed to peace and the Oslo and Cairo agreements it signed with the Palestinians, or has it decided to pull out of them?" an al Ahram columnist asked after news of further Jewish settlement building in the West Bank. "All the signs point to the fact that Rabin's government . . . is now renewing its position as a result of extremist pressure on both sides; from Israel itself and from the ranks of the impoverished Palestinian people." A cartoon showed Mr Rabin trying to kill a dove of peace with a nuclear missile.