- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 5, 2002

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak yesterday said he has invited Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat to a peace conference in Egypt.
"I asked the prime minister of Israel to come to Sharm el-Sheik … on condition that they could invite Arafat, not to solve the problem, but to give the impression to both parties to the people on both sides, to the people in the Arab word that there is a window of hope, that we have to work with that," Mr. Mubarak said.
Mr. Mubarak, in Washington for his first visit since September 11, made the offer in a television interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer as the Middle East exploded into ever-bloodier violence over the weekend.
More than 100 people have died in the past 15 days, 24 of them Israelis killed during a 24-hour period over the weekend. Nineteen Palestinians died yesterday.
The State Department yesterday confirmed accusations by Mr. Mubarak, in an interview published in The Washington Times, that the ship Karine A was not the first attempt to smuggle weapons by sea from Iran to the Palestinians. Israel intercepted the ship in January.
"We have been aware of these shipments, and the Israelis were able to interdict several shipments," said a State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
He cited reports that Israel had intercepted a weapons shipment at sea off Gaza several months ago and discovered waterproof "pods" containing weapons destined for Palestinian fighters.
An Israeli official in Washington said there have been attempts to dig tunnels "to bring in weapons and equipment" for the Palestinians.
"There have been ongoing and continuous attempts to smuggle armaments, weapons, amunition, explosives and even rockets from Egypt into the Gaza Strip. Most of this smuggling activity is concentrated in the Rafah area. We haven't seen any letup on their attempts to try to smuggle," the official said.
Mr. Mubarak also told The Times of sleeper terrorist cells in the United States, a fear that U.S. lawmakers and administration officials said yesterday they shared.
Rep. Saxby Chambliss, Georgia Republican, who met with the Egyptian leader last month, said he is "very knowledgeable" and "has a lot of credibility with me."
"The FBI is now in a disruptive and preventive mode rather than arresting and prosecution, because they are trying to track down any individuals who may be connected to sleeper cells, and hopefully that will lead to arresting other individuals," Mr. Chambliss said.
The Mubarak peace plan comes on the heels of a Saudi Arabian proposal that Israel withdraw from all Arab lands conquered in the 1967 war in return for normalization of relations with all Arab countries.
Mr. Mubarak said yesterday he could "push" Mr. Arafat to join his proposed peace conference but was unsure how Mr. Sharon would respond.
"I had a long talk with him on the telephone, and I told him after I sent him a message to come to Sharm el-Sheik, I told him that I would like to sit with you bilaterally," Mr. Mubarak said.
Mr. Mubarak had separate meetings yesterday with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, Vice President Richard B. Cheney and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice. No information about those talks was made public.
Nicholas Kralev contributed to this article.


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