- The Washington Times - Friday, February 7, 2003

CAIRO Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for a visit has drawn angry reactions in Egypt, where the Israeli leader is commonly referred to as a "butcher" of the Palestinians.
Egyptian officials have taken pains to explain that Mr. Mubarak's initiative was taken in the interest of the Palestinians, pointing out that even Yasser Arafat had offered in vain to meet with the hard-line prime minister.
But media comments revealed widespread hostility to the invitation that Mr. Mubarak said Monday was an attempt at reviving peace talks frozen since 2000.
"No, Mr. President, don't shake hands with him, don't put your hand in the bloodstained hand of this assassin," wrote Mustapha Bakri, the editor in chief of the pro-government Al-Osboue weekly.
"He's a terrorist, a vampire, and not a statesman or an ordinary man with whom it is possible to talk about peace," Mr. Bakri wrote in an editorial headlined "Before the butcher stains our soil" and published next to a photo montage showing Mr. Sharon's heads on the body of a cobra.
Mr. Bakri expressed the worry that the invitation would reward Mr. Sharon's tough repression of the Palestinian uprising and "break his isolation and open for him the road to other Arab capitals."
A meeting with Mr. Mubarak would be Mr. Sharon's first with an Arab leader since he took office nearly two years ago.
Mr. Mubarak explained Monday in state-run al-Gomhuriya daily that he "thought it appropriate to contact [Mr. Sharon] and deal with him in a new way" after his resounding victory in the Jan. 28 Israeli elections.
"I invited him to meet us at Sharm el Sheik, after the formation of his government, to examine ways of breaking the deadlock, and getting back on the track of dialogue and negotiations," Mr. Mubarak said.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher said yesterday he received telephone call from his Israeli counterpart, Benjamin Netanyahu, "who stated his desire to begin a dialogue aimed at achieving peace."
Mr. Maher said he answered Mr. Netanyahu's request by stating his "readiness to start a dialogue with him, on a sound basis, in order to achieve a just and global settlement" of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Sharm el Sheik, the isolated Red Sea resort on the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula offers maximum security and would shield the meeting from any protest.
On Wednesday, nearly 1,000 students demonstrated at Cairo University against U.S. threats of war on Iraq and Mr. Sharon's planned visit.
Hamdi Shahin, a political-science teacher at the university, called the proposed visit "unacceptable" and said Mr. Sharon "should first show respect to us and announce a new policy."
He said Mr. Sharon has an aptitude for playing on the weaknesses of Arab governments. "He knows that Arab leaders can't do anything but negotiate."

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