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CAIRO - Sudan said on Sunday that leaders of a rebel group in its western Darfur region were making regular visits to Israel and ties with the Jewish state had caused a split in rebel ranks.

A rebel spokesman denied any link with Israel and said the charge was an attempt to stir up Muslim public opinion.

Sudanese Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail told reporters in Cairo some leaders of the rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) had split from the group two days ago over ties between its leadership and Israel.

The Islamist government in Khartoum has said 210 JEM rebels surrendered their arms in the Chadian-Sudanese border town of Tine on Friday, a report which JEM denied.

Ismail said those who had broken away from the group, "confirmed that the leadership of the movement make regular visits to Israel".

JEM, one of two Darfur rebel groups, denied the accusation and said none of its leaders had split from the group.

"There is no relationship between the movement and Israel and I have no knowledge of any intention that there should be a relationship. It is lies on the part of the government," JEM Secretary-General Bahar Idriss Abu Garda told Reuters.

"The government is striving to mislead Arab and Islamic public opinion," he said.

The United Nations says fighting in Darfur, which began in early 2003, has created the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with one million people displaced. It estimates up to 50,000 have been killed.

Ismail was speaking in Cairo where he was seeking Arab support to avoid a threat of U.N. sanctions if Khartoum fails to rein in Arab militias who the U.S. Congress accuses of committing genocide in Darfur.

The rebels say Khartoum has used the militia as an auxiliary force to crush the rebellion and drive non-Arabs from their villages and land.