"The prime minister received a letter inviting him to attend a conference in Tunisia on scientific cooperation and plans to make the visit," a source in Sharon's office said on Friday, adding that the letter came from Bin Ali.

 

The conference - the second World Summit on the Information Society - will be held in mid-November, the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronoth said on Friday.

 

Israel Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, who recently expressed hope that diplomatic ties could be forged with "at least another 10 Arab countries", held secret talks with his Tunisian counterpart Abd al-Baki Harmassi in recent months, the paper added.

 

The invitation comes on the heels of renewed hopes for Middle East peace after Sharon and Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas declared a cessation of hostilities at a key summit earlier this month.

 

Tunisia broke off diplomatic ties with Israel after the outbreak of the Palestinian uprising in September 2000, although some commercial relations continue.

 

At the moment, the only countries in the Arab world with which Israel has full diplomatic relations are Egypt, Jordan and Mauritania.