Egypt persuaded Israel against a planned land attack on the Lebanese capital of Beirut following Hizbullah's abduction of two Israeli soldiers earlier this week, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said Sunday. The Egyptian leader also disclosed an Iranian offer to negotiate a settlement with Hizbullah as part of Arab initiatives to resolve the crisis, but called Tehran's bid "a trap."
"Egypt was keen not to let the Israelis into Beirut," Mubarak told reporters Sunday after talks with the president of the United Arab Emirates, Sheik Khalifa bin Zayid al-Nuhayyan. "If we hadn't stepped in, Beirut would have been destroyed," Mubarak said.
Egyptian officials have been talking to the Israelis in a bid to find a diplomatic solution to the latest regional military confrontation, the Egyptian president said. "We are talking to them more than once a day," he said. "We told them that attacking civilians and civil infrastructure is wrong, because the Lebanese people are helpless."
Like regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia,Egypt has criticized Hizbullah for starting the latest Mideast crisis. Mubarak said he was also in contact with Syrian officials and that Tehran was interested in participating in Arab mediation efforts.
"They (the Iranians) want to attend the Arab foreign ministers meeting and form a joint committee that would have included Hizbullah and Hamas," he said. "Egypt realized that that was a trap."
Khamenei praises Hizbullah
Moderate Arab nations, such as Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and oil-rich countries in the Gulf have expressed fear that Iran is using its Lebanese Shiite allies to expand its regional influence. Meanwhile, Iran's top leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei praised Hizbullah Sunday and said it would not give up its weapons.
"Thanks to the power of Hizbullah, the Lebanese resistance has disturbed the dream of the Zionists," Khamenei said in a speech broadcast on state television. "The US President says Hizbullah must be disarmed. It's clear that (the US) and Zionists want this, but it won't happen," He said.
On Saturday, Israel said that 100 Iranian troops from the elite Revolutionary Guards were in Lebanon, and that they helped Hizbullah fire a sophisticated radar-guided missile at anIsraeli warship blockading the Lebanese coast late Friday. Israel said the rocket was made in China and upgraded in Iran, and was a radar-guided C-802 missile. Iran on Sunday denied the Israeli claims.
But Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi warned Israel that expanding its bombing raids to neighboring Syria would bring the Jewish state "unimaginable damage."
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Friday that any Israeli attack against Syria would be viewed as an aggression on the entire Islamic world. On Sunday, Israel stepped up its airstrikes on Lebanon including targets in Beirut after Hizbullah rockets hit the northern city of Haifa and killed eight civilians.