The officials, who spoke to Aljazeera.net on Sunday, described the invitation as amounting to "awarding Sharon for his crimes against the Palestinians, including the mutilation of  the West Bank and construction of the separation wall".

"We hope that our brother Arab leaders refrain from harming the Palestinian cause by normalising relations with Israel while the Israeli occupation is still well-entrenched in our country," Tahsin Yaqin, a senior PA Foreign Ministry official, said.

Yaqin told Aljazeera.net that Sharon's visit to Tunisia at "this time" would be received with a "lot of sorrow and consternation in Palestine".

"Of course, the visit will injure the feelings of our people especially the tens of thousands of Palestinian families whose children and relatives have been killed and whose homes have been destroyed by Israel."

No comment

Another high-ranking PA official, who spoke to Aljazeera on condition of anonymity, accused the Tunisian president of "only seeking to appease and please Washington". 

President bin Ali's policies have
earned him a pro-US reputation 

Publicly, the PA has chosen not to comment on the planned visit, apparently to avoid any damage to relations with Tunis.

However, the invitation for Sharon to attend a UN-sponsored conference on information technology is generating a lot of anger and indignation among Palestinians.

Positive indications

For their part, Tunisian government officials say the Israeli leader has been invited by the organisers of the information technology conference, not by the Tunisian government.

Earlier, Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, who is himself of a Tunisian descent, said Israel had received "positive indications" from 10 Arab states, including some in North African, of their interest in establishing diplomatic relations with Israel.

Analysts believe Tunisia is one of the countries Shalom alluded to.