Israel-Canada rupture not expected to be long-term

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TORONTO — The Canadian government is not likely to take stern measures against Israel in the wake of a botched operation that implicated Canada.

Intelligence operatives for the Jewish state used forged Canadian passports as part of an attempt to assassinate a Hamas official in Jordan.

The Canadian minister for foreign affairs, Lloyd Axworthy, said Monday that Israel had expressed its "very deep regret" for the use of the passports in the botched Sept. 25 attack on Khaled Mashaal.

But Axworthy, who spoke Sunday with his Israeli counterpart, David Levy, said that his office was still seeking reassurances from Israel "that it won't happen again."

Prime Minister Jean Chretien flatly denied suggestions that Canadian officials had given permission for the Israeli operatives to use the passports.

"It is completely unacceptable to this government that anybody authorized by another government would use the Canadian passport to perpetrate any illegal action," he said.

Canada recalled its ambassador to Israel, David Berger, soon after Canadian consular officials in the Jordanian capital of Amman determined that the signatures and photographs on the passports had been falsified.

Opposition voices in the Canadian Parliament have urged trade sanctions and visa restrictions against Israelis.

But the government has not indicated that it is considering any further measures.

"In the short term, I think they'll try to develop the arrangements necessary to restore a normal situation," said Robert Ritter, national executive director of the Canada-Israel Committee, which represents the Jewish community on issues between the two countries.

"It'll take a while for the dust to settle," Ritter said. "In the long run, I don't think this will injure the strength of Canada-Israel bilateral relations.

"I think the Israelis will get out of this particular difficulty and the friendship will remain as solid as it's always been," he added.

The passport affair has commanded front-page headlines in Canada since the story broke.

In an editorial Monday, Canada's most respected newspaper, The Globe and Mail, angrily asserted that recalling the ambassador may not be enough.

"Canada appreciates that Israel is under siege and understands that it cannot let attacks on its citizens go unpunished," the editorial said.

"But friends do not exploit each other. Friends do not hide behind each other. If the allegations about last week are true, Israel has put our friendship at risk."