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Israeli embassy in mauritania closes after Gaza spat

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Israeli Embassy in Mauritania Closes after Gaza Spat

Israel on Friday closed down its embassy in Mauritania, one of three Arab nations that has diplomatic ties with the Jewish state, the foreign ministry said, in the wake of a dispute over the Gaza war.

"Following a Jan. 16 decision of the Mauritanian government to freeze ties with Israel, and at the request of Mauritania, Israel today closed its embassy in Nouakchott," a foreign ministry statement said.

A senior Mauritanian official said earlier that Mauritania has ordered staff at Israel's embassy to leave the country within 48 hours.

Mauritania called back its ambassador in Israel in the wake of the 22-day offensive against the Gaza Strip that was launched on Dec. 27.

"This is the logical consequence of the freezing of relations between Israel and Mauritania … there is nothing new," said a Mauritanian military official, who declined to be identified.

"This was expected. After military ruler General Mohamed Ould Aziz took the decision at the Doha summit, an envoy from the Mauritanian Foreign Ministry sent a letter to the ambassador of Israel to leave the country," the official said.

In Nouakchott a diplomatic source said the Israeli flag and security measures, including surveillance cameras, had been taken down overnight and embassy staff were expected to leave Mauritania on Friday or Saturday.

It was not clear if the embassy closure was temporary or permanent, signaling a break in diplomatic ties which date from 1999.

Abdel Aziz announced the decision to freeze relations at a summit of Arab nations in Doha, Qatar, in January. Qatar said at the time that it would freeze its own relations with Israel, which are at a lower level than full diplomatic ties.  An Israeli Foreign Ministry official who also declined to be identified said Israel had not been officially informed by Mauritania of plans to expel its ambassador.

"We don't know what is happening there exactly. We are still checking. They did not tell us they intend to expel our ambassador," he said.

He added that the timing of the decision could be linked to a planned visit to Nouakchott by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. "Maybe they are just showing they're tough," the official said.

Egypt and Jordan are the only other Arab countries to have formal diplomatic relations with Israel.