The West African country of Niger has broken diplomatic relations with Israel in the latest gesture of anger over the Israeli assault on Palestinian areas.

Niger announced the largely symbolic breaking of ties on Sunday. Diplomatic links, first suspended over the Arab-Israeli war in 1973, were restored in 1996 after Israelis and Palestinians had agreed to work towards peace.

Parts of impoverished West Africa have been borne along on the surge of anti-Israeli sentiment in the region since Israel unleashed an offensive on Palestinian areas in late March after a wave of suicide bombings.

The Niamey government said in a statement that Niger "remained in complete solidarity with the martyred, brother people of Palestine in the heroic struggle for the realisation of their legitimate and unalienable rights."

The diplomatic links meant little on the ground. The Jewish state has no embassy in Niger, there is little trade between the countries and Israel is not among big aid donors to the arid state on the edge of the Sahara desert.

But public pressure has been growing on rulers of the country to make a more forceful denunciation of Israel than their earlier criticism. Thousands of people marched in Niamey on Saturday to support the Palestinians.

Similar demonstrations have been held in many West African countries. Police in Mauritania have repeatedly used teargas to put down protests by demonstrators demanding that the government cut its ties with Israel.

Many African countries have criticised Israel for its latest military offensive in the West Bank to hunt down militants. The Organisation of African Unity demanded that Israel withdraw from the Palestinian territories earlier this month.