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Afghan President Hamid Karzai would recognize Israel's government if an independent Palestinian state was first established, Karzai's spokesman said yesterday.

"We will establish relations with Israel after our Palestinian brothers have an independent and free state," Karim Rahimi quoted the president as saying.

Commenting on earlier reports in Afghan media, Israeli political sources said that Israel viewed this as "another important step on the road to recognition of Israel by the Muslim world."

The Afghani report coincides with Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom's efforts to knock down the "iron wall" between Israel and Arab and Muslim countries. "Muslim countries understand this is the right time to initiate contact with Israel because anyone who wants to be involved in the peace process must have contact also with Israel and not only with the Palestinians," the Israeli sources said.