- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 24, 2001

Hijacked ambassador

The U.S. ambassador to Yemen was among 91 passengers on a Yemeni airliner that was briefly hijacked yesterday by a man claiming to be a supporter of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Ambassador Barbara Bodine and the other passengers escaped unharmed when the crew overpowered the hijacker after persuading him to allow the plane to land for refueling in Djibouti.

"One crew member fired foam from a fire extinguisher into the hijacker's face in an attempt to blind him. Another tried to wrestle him to the ground," reported Mohammed Sudam, a Reuters News Agency correspondent who was on the plane.

The pilot ordered his attendants to evacuate the passengers down an emergency chute starting with Mrs. Bodine and her aides.

She was traveling with military and political attaches from the U.S. Embassy in Yemen for talks with President Ali Abdullah Saleh on the Oct. 12 bombing of the USS Cole, which killed 17 U.S. sailors in the Yemeni port of Aden.

A Yemeni security official identified the hijacker as Mohammed Yahya Ali Satar.

The hijacker was "armed with a pen-shaped pistol [and] threatened to blow up the Boeing 727 if it was not diverted to Baghdad," Mr. Sudam wrote.

Mrs. Bodine and her aides "appeared calm throughout the ordeal" but declined to comment on the hijacking, he said.

Israel reacts

The Israeli Embassy yesterday criticized Egyptian Ambassador Nabil Fahmy, who told The Washington Times that the election of hawkish Ariel Sharon as Israeli prime minister would cast doubts on the country's commitment to peace.

Embassy spokesman Mark Regev also deplored Egypt's decision to recall its ambassador from Israel and to participate in economic sanctions Arab leaders imposed following violence between Palestinian protesters and Israeli authorities.

"When Israelis go to the polls on Feb. 6, they will be the only people in the Middle East who participate in truly free and fair elections," Mr. Regev said in a statement.

"I find it strange that representatives of other states in the region with questionable electoral practices choose to criticize Israel's democratic process."

Egypt is dominated by the National Democratic Party, which has governed since it was formed in 1978, and President Hosni Mubarak was re-elected unopposed to a sixth term in September 1999.

The State Department, in its annual human rights report, said Egyptian citizens "do not have a meaningful ability to change their government" because the ruling party controls the national legislature, local governments, the mass media and labor unions.

Mr. Regev told Mr. Fahmy, "If you recall your ambassador from Israel, participate in an economic boycott against the Jewish state and consistently stifle efforts to normalize relations between Israel and the Arab world, surely people should wonder as to your commitment to a true peace."

In an interview published in yesterday's Times, Mr. Fahmy said, "If Israelis elect Sharon, people will wonder, 'Do the Israelis want peace?'

"The perception of Sharon in the Arab world is much more negative than that of [Prime Minister Ehud] Barak."

Mr. Sharon has a wide lead over Mr. Barak in Israeli public opinion polls.

Special relationship

British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook is coming to Washington early next month to meet Secretary of State Colin Powell and maintain the so-called "special relationship" between the United States and the United Kingdom.

Mr. Cook will hold talks with Mr. Powell and other members of the new Bush administration Feb. 5-7.

"The partnership between Britain and America is at the heart of our foreign policy," Mr. Cook said in a statement.

"I have already spoken to Colin Powell about a range of issues on which we will be working with the United States to pursue our common interests."

British Prime Minister Tony Blair yesterday telephoned President Bush and discussed the possibility of a meeting.

"They spoke for approximately 10 minutes [and] agreed an early meeting would be useful. Our governments will discuss the dates of when that should be," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.

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