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Egypt, Syria demand Israel's no-strings withdrawal from Lebanon

In this story: April 15, 1998
Web posted at: 6:09 p.m. EDT (2209 GMT)

CAIRO, Egypt (CNN) - The presidents of Egypt and Syria demanded Wednesday that Israel withdraw unconditionally from southern Lebanon.

At a news conference after a lengthy, unannounced meeting, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Syria's Hafez al-Assad said Israel should leave the southern strip of Lebanon it occupies without expecting anything in return.

"They (Israel) entered Lebanon without permission so they can get out of Lebanon without permission," Mubarak said. "If Israel is going to withdraw (from southern Lebanon) in accordance with (U.N. Security Council) Resolution 425, I think no one will object. But neither Syria nor Lebanon will accept that it be negotiated."

"Israel has to just withdraw from Lebanon," said Assad, whose country is the main power broker in Lebanon. "The Israelis entered Lebanon, so they can get out of it."

Mubarak and Assad were responding to a proposal, endorsed by Israel's inner Cabinet last month, to implement the U.N. resolution, which calls for Israeli troops to leave southern Lebanon. But the Israelis want guarantees that their security will be maintained if they withdraw.

Israel claims that the strip of Lebanon it holds is a security zone that protects it from Lebanese militants. But Syria and Lebanon say that Resolution 425 demands an unconditional withdrawal, and they regard Israel's initiative as an attempt to sabotage wider Middle East peace efforts.

Syria, Egypt blame Netanyahu

Israeli-Palestinian talks have been stalled for more than a year amid disputes over how to implement past agreements on redeployment and security. Negotiations with Syria and Lebanon over Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon broke off two years ago.

"The issue of security is expansive and they (Israelis) can use it as a justification for not implementing the agreements they have reached," Mubarak said.

Syria and Egypt blame Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for derailing peace moves since he came to power in June 1996 by failing to honor the land-for-peace agreement that was the centerpiece of the peace initiative launched in Madrid in 1991.

Mubarak criticized Netanyahu Wednesday for saying the Palestinian Authority must detain militants and crack down on "terrorism" before Israel withdraws from occupied Palestinian lands.

"The peace process must not be linked to the arrest of (Palestinian) leaders of the Islamist movement," he said. "It may take two centuries before such a demand is met."

Mubarak often consults with Arab and Palestinian leaders on Middle East peace efforts. Assad visited Egypt last September, and Mubarak paid a return visit to the Syrian capital in January.

After talks in Damascus Monday, Assad and his Lebanese counterpart Elias Hrawi renewed their rejection of Israel's withdrawal offer and expressed readiness to resume peace talks with Israel at the point where they left off in January 1996.

Lebanese leader to visit Cairo

The Lebanese-Syrian meeting, the third in a month, followed a letter from the U.S. administration to the Lebanese government urging it to study the Israeli offer seriously.

Egyptian newspapers said Wednesday that Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri was due to visit Egypt next week. The Egyptian government has said it would back Lebanon's stance on the Israeli proposal.

The French government weighed in with its opinion Tuesday, saying it, too, believes Israel should unconditionally withdraw from southern Lebanon.

After meeting with Lebanese Foreign Minister Faris Bouez in Paris, French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine said, "The (Israeli) proposal was not viable because it sets conditions that are not in the United Nations' resolution."

Reuters contributed to this report.


Struggle For Peace

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