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Sharon Deliberately Trying to Sabotage Mideast Peace, Says Egypt's President - 2002-07-25

President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt accused Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon Thursday of trying to derail peace efforts in the Middle East with the recent bombing in Gaza. Mr. Mubarak's remarks came during the first leg of a trip to France and Spain to gather support for an Arab peace plan for the region.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was unusually harsh and unsparing in condemning Israel's bombing in Gaza earlier this week. The Israeli air strike killed the leader of the extremist group Hamas and 14 other people, including nine children.

According to President Mubarak, Tuesday's strike showed that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was deliberately, as he put it, trying to sabotage efforts to end the spiraling violence between Palestinians and Israelis. But Israel must realize, Mr. Mubarak warned, that such actions would only bring ruin, not only to Palestinians, but also to Israelis who would not be able to live normal lives.

Mr. Mubarak spoke during a joint news conference at the Elysee Presidential palace in Paris, following a luncheon meeting with French President Jacques Chirac. Besides the Middle East, the presidents also discussed the situation in Sudan and Iraq. On almost every point, Mr. Chirac said, the two leaders were in agreement.

Mr. Chirac said he shared Mr. Mubarak's view that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was the only person who could represent the Palestinians in peace talks. That means both leaders have essentially rejected U.S. President George Bush's call for Mr. Arafat to be excluded from future negotiations. Mr. Chirac said he also agreed with Mr. Mubarak that democratic reforms in Palestinian territories could only take place after Israel fully withdraws from the occupied lands.

But Mr. Chirac did not directly respond to a separate question on whether France backed a regime change in Iraq. He called only for a return of United Nations inspectors. The United States is reportedly drafting plans to oust Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

After his stop in France, Mr. Mubarak is scheduled to meet with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar and King Juan Carlos in Spain. Meanwhile, another Arab leader, King Abdullah of Jordan, is due in Paris on Friday, for talks before flying to Washington.