- The Washington Times - Friday, November 9, 2001

Egypt is pleased with President Bush's management of the war on terrorism and satisfied that the Pentagon is doing everything possible to avoid civilian casualties in Afghanistan, Cairo's ambassador to the United States said yesterday.
Nabil Fahmy, who has been Egypt's ambassador to Washington for two years, said his impression of Mr. Bush's handling of the crisis is "extremely positive" and that it would be out of character for the United States to kill civilians deliberately.
"We were the first to say we supported military action, but at the same time, we have to be concerned about civilian casualties," Mr. Fahmy told editors and reporters at a luncheon interview at The Washington Times.
"In as far as I know Americans, I definitely assume that you are making a best effort not to kill civilians."
Mr. Fahmy said Egypt had learned from its own war against terrorists that civilian casualties can hurt efforts to sway public opinion.
"This is ultimately a battle for the heart and soul of the people, between civilized society and terrorists. It is not about Islam. It is between bin Laden and the world. You have to have public support," he said.
Afghanistan's Taliban government, which is accused of sheltering Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda terror network, makes almost daily assertions of civilian casualties from the U.S. bombing.
The Taliban says as many as 1,600 innocent civilians have been killed since the Oct. 7 start of the bombing. Television stations throughout the Muslim world regularly show blood-spattered images of men, women and children killed by errant U.S. bombs.
The Pentagon concedes there have been civilian deaths but says the Taliban figures are inflated. A British intelligence report during the weekend analyzing the Taliban statements concluded that fewer than 300 Afghan civilians have been hit by U.S. ordnance.
In a wide-ranging discussion on the war, Egypt's role in the anti-terrorism coalition, the Middle East peace process and the definition of terrorism, Mr. Fahmy said New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani was wrong to return a $10 million donation from Saudi Arabian Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, who had implied that the World Trade Center bombers were frustrated over U.S. support of Israel in the Middle East.
"I would have handled it differently," he said.
He said that the failure of the Middle East peace process was not to blame for the September 11 suicide attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, which he described as the work of "criminals."
"I will not link it, to justify what they did. They did not [attack] for a legitimate issue we have in the Middle East," he said. But he said progress must be made to resolve the impasse between Israel and the Palestinians if the long-term war against terrorism is to succeed in the Islamic world.
He deflected several opportunities to describe the Palestinian organizations Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorist groups, despite suicide bombings in Israel that target, for example, families having lunch at a pizzeria or teen-agers at a disco.
"We have to address the difference between terrorists and freedom fighters. We condemn groups that go after civilians Israeli or Palestinian civilians," he said. "We cannot accuse every freedom fighter of being a terrorist ipso facto."
Mr. Fahmy was concerned that Americans do not understand his government's commitment to the war on terrorism or the costs to Egypt.
In addition to publicly supporting the war in general and U.S. bombing during Ramadan, if it is required, he said that Egypt is sharing intelligence and has offered maritime and military safe passage and flyovers.
He said Egypt has lost $1.5 billion in tourism revenue and has seen the insurance costs of exporting to the United States rise dramatically.
"Terrorism is a threat to Egypt as much as it is to the United States. There is no doubt about our commitment [in the war against terrorism]. We speak out of principle. We have to learn to work together, balancing our different interests," he said.


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