Mauritania expels Israeli ambassador
African state's military junta suspended ties with Israel in Jan. over Israel's offensive against Hamas in Gaza.
The Foreign Ministry said Friday it had closed its embassy after the government of this overwhelmingly Muslim West African nation asked the Israeli ambassador and his staff to leave.
The move came after Mauritania's military junta recalled its own ambassador from Israel last month. In January, Mauritania said it was suspending ties with Israel over its military offensive against Hamas in Gaza.
"Following the Mauritanian government's decision, on January 16th 2009, to freeze diplomatic relations with Israel, and at its request, Israel will close its embassy in Nouakchott as of today," Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said in a statement.
Mauritanian authorities had asked the Israeli Embassy to close within 48 hours, according to a Mauritanian government official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to journalists.
The West African state's Communications Minister said Friday's move was a result of a decision taken at a meeting of Arab leaders in Doha in mid-January.
"We informed them [Israel] of the decision to suspend relations at the time of the summit in Doha, and it is now being executed," El Kory Ould Abdel Mola told Reuters. "The embassy is closed."
Israeli embassy personnel were seen packing up and taking down security cameras on Friday. The Israeli ambassador declined to comment to journalists.
Another official close to Mauritanian military ruler General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz said the decision to expel the Israeli diplomats followed January's decision to freeze relations with the state.
"This is the logical consequence of the freezing of relations between Israel and Mauritania ... there is nothing new," said the official, who declined to be identified.
"This was expected. After General 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.
Mauritania is one of only three Arab League countries to have diplomatic ties with Israel, alongside Jordan and Egypt. Diplomatic relations between Mauritania and Israel were established in October 1999.
About 1,300 Palestinians ? many of whom civilians - were killed in Israel's three-week Gaza campaign against Hamas militants, Palestinian officials said. 13 Israelis were also killed in the offensive, which Israel launched to combat cross-border rocket fire by Gaza militants.
The Israeli action sparked protests through the Arab and Muslim world, including Mauritania, where tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Nouakchott in protest.