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Egypt's Foreign Minister Concerned with Lebanon Violence

Egypt's foreign minister says he hopes the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri will not lead to chaos and a return to civil war in that country. Ahmed Aboul Gheit made the remarks during a visit to Washington.

Mr. Aboul Gheit says it is "premature" to reach conclusions about who is responsible for the massive explosion that killed Mr. Hariri.

The Egyptian foreign minister called the assassination a "horrible event" that "complicates the picture within Lebanon and around the region."

"I would hope and I would pray that nothing else would take place on the Lebanese scene because if we would start a cycle of killings and counter-killings, and this faction is targeting this leadership, Lebanon might slide to a situation that might resemble what happened in the mid-70s when we had the civil war. I hope not," he said.

On a more positive note, Mr. Aboul Gheit pointed to the recent Israeli-Palestinian summit where an agreement was announced to end four-and-a-half years of bloodshed.

The Egyptian foreign minister says it is important now that both sides keep their commitments.

He says Palestinians must end attacks, while Israelis need to withdraw from areas occupied since the violence erupted in September 2000.

Mr. Aboul Gheit says Israeli and Palestinian security forces must coordinate the withdrawal of Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip and a small portion of the West Bank later this year.

"This has to be done in a manner that will insure peace, security, stability and cooperation between the two, the Israelis and the Palestinians,” he added. “Because imagine if they would fire on each other as they are withdrawing. It won't work."

The Egyptian foreign minister says his country will provide 750 guards to seal its border with the Gaza Strip to stop weapons from being smuggled to Palestinian militants.

Mr. Aboul Gheit also says he does not think it is a good idea for a high-profile U.S. mediator to be assigned to the Middle East.

He says he is hoping President Bush or Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will take on the role of promoting the peace process.

On Iraq, Mr. Aboul Gheit says now that elections have been held, it is important that all groups are brought into the process of forming a government and creating a constitution.

"We hope that all Iraqi factions would be included in the attempt to compose a government and also to formulate a constitution, to draft a constitution,” he noted. “That is a must because if certain Iraqi factions, groups, are not included then firing will continue."

Mr. Aboul Gheit says it is important to establish a strong, well-equipped Iraqi army.

He says once such an army is built, coalition forces can disengage and withdraw from Iraqi cities, which Mr. Aboul Gheit says will substantially reduce the violence and tension in the country.