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Israel, Morocco Establish Ties

By Caryle Murphy
The Washington Post
JERUSALEM

Morocco has decided to establish low-level diplomatic relations with Israel, a move that will now give the long-isolated Jewish state regular, open contacts with three Arab countries.

In announcements Thursday in Israel and Morocco, the two countries said they will open liaison offices - Morocco's in Tel Aviv and Israel's in Rabat, the Moroccan capital. No date was announced.

"It's a first step, an opening of the door, and I imagine there will be a continuation," Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said when asked if the countries would exchange ambassadors soon.

Israel has full diplomatic ties with Egypt as a result of their 1979 peace treaty. In July the 46-year-old state of belligerency between Israel, and Jordan was declared over and the two are now negotiating a peace accord.

Morocco said it also will open a liaison office in the newly autonomous Gaza Strip "with Mr. Yasser Arafat, president of the state of Palestine," but will continue to maintain its diplomatic relations with the Palestine Liberation Organization itself in Tunis, where the PLO's foreign relations operations are still based.

Under its agreements with Israel, the Palestinian self-rule government headed by Arafat has no authority to conduct foreign relations. The PLO, however, maintains its long-standing foreign contacts and diplomatic ties with many states.

Several other countries, mostly European, have announced that they will set up similar offices in the new Palestinian self-rule area, principally to deal with economic assistance to the Palestinians. On Wednesday, Germany became the first to open such an office, in the West Bank town of Jericho.

An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman said the staffs of these "technical" offices will not have diplomatic or consular status. But he said he expected that diplomats accredited to Israel would routinely visit such offices to supervise them.

The offices are to deal with "the coordination of (economic) assistance of their country" to the Palestinian self-rule entity, he added. "Political activity is not included."

The Israeli-Moroccan move follows a gradual warming between the two countries, especially since Israel signed its landmark accord with the PLO a year ago. Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin made his first public visit to Morocco on his way back from Washington after signing that agreement.