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Israel, U.S. Deny Role in Rabta Fire; Unknown Libyan Group Takes Credit

Israel, the United States and West Germany denied their countries’ responsibility for the fire that has reportedly totally destroyed the chemical plant at Rabta, Libya.

The three nations rejected charges made by Libya following Wednesday’s fire at the plant, which allegedly was manufacturing chemical weapons.

However, an unknown group in Cairo, the Organization for the National Wing of the Libyan Army, claimed responsibility for the act. The group was identified as an underground Libyan organization opposed to strongman Moammar Gadhafi.

The fire, some 40 miles south of Tripoli, follows reports last week that Gadhafi had ordered the start-up of the plant, which he claimed made only Pharmaceuticals.

In Israel, Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was awakened in the middle of the night to respond to an American newspaper on the charge, said it was the first he had heard of the fire.

Mordechai Gur, a Labor minister without portfolio in the outgoing government, said he did not know who was to blame, “but I’m glad it happened.”

President Bush denied any American complicity in the fire, saying the U.S. had “absolutely” no role in any attempt to sabotage the plant.

White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater echoed this at his daily press briefing Thursday, adding that the plant was assumed to not be functioning. ABC News reported that the plant was burned to the ground.

State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler said that despite the absence of American responsibility for the sabotage, the United States still wanted the plant dismantled. “We are still firm in our insistence that Libya halt operations at Rabta and dismantle the plant,” she said.

The Bonn government likewise denied charges Gadhafi made Thursday, blaming West German intelligence. “Any allegation that somebody from West Germany would be involved in this is absolutely groundless,” said Bernd von Muenchow, a spokesman at the West German Embassy in Washington.

According to West German security sources, Libya had manufactured about 50 metric tons of mustard gas at the plant since last year.

West German businesses, specifically Imhausen-Chimie, have been deemed responsible for selling Libya the materiel and know-how to start up the plant. The owner of the firm, Jurgen Imhausen, is in prison in West Germany and his properties have been confiscated.

(JTA bureau chief David Friedman in Washington contributed to this report.)

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