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ISRAELI RESPONSE

In caution, Sharon muzzles his ministers on London attacks

JERUSALEM -- Israel's Ariel Sharon has imposed a gag order on his Cabinet over the London bombings to avoid offending British sensibilities with comparisons to his country's fight against Palestinian militants, officials said.

The prime minister muzzled his Cabinet after Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom seemed to equate Thursday's deadly attacks with suicide bombings against Israeli civilians, comments that Israeli commentators said were ill-timed.

''Keep quiet. Limit any response to expressions of condolences," was Sharon's message to his ministers

''The feeling is the last thing the British need right now is Israeli ministers preaching to them about the war on terror," a Sharon confidant said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has condemned the London bombings as an ''ugly crime."

Sharon wants to keep a low profile to avoid stirring anti-Israel sentiment in Britain or causing any fallout in relations, which have sometimes been rocky, officials said. He telephoned his condolences to Blair calling the bombings ''a terrible and cruel crime" that created ''difficult days" for the British people.

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