City councillors are investigating links which could lead to Oxford being twinned with towns in the Middle East.

Friendship links are being proposed between Oxford and Ramallah, a city in the occupied West Bank, and Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam in Israel -- despite fears about the political sensitivity of the move.

An Oxford-Ramallah Friendship Association has been formed and contact made with Palestinian residents in the university town.

ORFA is establishing links between schools, hospitals, trade unions, faith groups and civic societies, and a delegation is planned for June.

The council is now asking its executive board to investigate friendship links between Oxford and the two locations, with a view to twinning in the future.

Mahmoud Hawari, of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, added: "I hope this will make people in Oxford more aware of the plight of Palestinians and their fight for freedom."

Rabbi Eli Brackman, of the Cowley Road-based Chabad Society, urged the city council to be "hypersensitive", in case it appeared to support one side or the other.

He said: "If an official twinning did take place, then that could make a friendship link a political issue."

Labour councillor Rick Muir, who represents Hinksey Park ward, said the friendship link with Perm in Russia paved the way for a full twinning arrangement.

He added that by creating such links, the council sustained its hope "for a just and peaceful future for all of the people of the Middle East".

Labour councillor John Tanner said: "We need to show our support to the brave people from Oxford who will be visiting Ramallah in the next few months."

Ramallah, once mooted as a capital city for Palestine, suffered last year during the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank.

Green city councillor Craig Simmons said the council should take note of the inspiring example of the village of Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam, the "oasis of peace" in Israel where Jews and Arabs lived side by side.