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The British Council closed its libraries and cancelled its English classes in Israel yesterday, following a directive from London ahead of a possible American strike on Iraq.

The decision to temporarily close all public access areas of the British Council offices in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv was made following the change in travel advice for Britain nationals in Israel, says Brionie Huish, the British Council spokeswoman in London.

Last Wednesday, the British Foreign Office issued a statement advising against "all nonessential travel" to Israel.

"The most important thing to the British Council is the safety and security of its staff and students," Huish told Haaretz yesterday. "It is not a decision we have taken lightly."

Staff of the British Council, which is the British government's cultural and educational arm abroad, as well as those at the embassy in Tel Aviv, have been authorized to leave Israel if they choose to following the change in travel advice.

The council Web site reads: "As a result of this, we may not be fully staffed in the coming weeks. For this reason, and for a temporary period from Monday, 24 February, we will not receive members of the public nor conduct English language courses."