Netanyahu: Israel must prepare for any Egypt outcome


JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel must be prepared for any outcome in Egypt, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Knesset, "by reinforcing the might of the State of Israel."

While an Egypt that fully embraces democracy and democratic reform would be a welcome neighbor, Netanyahu said Wednesday, it is also possible that Egypt could come under the rule of parties that are answerable to Iran.

"They want Egypt to become another Gaza, run by radical forces that oppose everything that the democratic world stands for," the Israeli leader warned. "Our stand is clear. We support the forces that promote freedom, progress and peace. We oppose the forces that seek to enforce a dark despotism, terrorism and war."

Netanyahu said he believed that if forces of democracy and reform prevail in Egypt, then it could buttress a wider Arab-Israeli peace and maintain the 30-year peace Israel has had with Egypt.

"We expect any government of Egypt to honor the peace. Moreover, we expect the international community to expect any government of Egypt to honor the peace," he said. "This must be clear, along with the discussions about reform and democracy."

Netanyahu announced that he would "take additional steps to further encourage development and prosperity among the Palestinians" in the coming days, and called on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas "to sit down with us and discuss peace without preconditions, negotiations that take into account changes that will affect Israel and the Palestinian Authority."

Meanwhile, a Hezbollah terrorist, Sami Chehab, jailed for smuggling weapons through Egypt to Gaza and who planned terror attacks against Israelis in Sinai, reportedly escaped from an Egyptian prison during the unrest and left the country, it was reported Thursday.

Also Thursday, Egyptian opposition activist Mohammed ElBaradei and the opposition group the Muslim Brotherhood said they would not enter into talks with the current government, saying that President Hosni Mubarak must step down first, Reuters reported. 

Meanwhile, a Belgian Jewish journalist based in Israel was arrested Wednesday by Egyptian police after being attacked while covering the anti-government protests. Pro-Mubarak supporters accused Serge Dumont, who covers the Middle East for the Belgian newspaper Le Soir, the Swiss Le Temps and the French regional paper La Voix du Nord, of supporting ElBaradei.

At least five people were killed and more than 800 wounded overnight in clashes between pro- and anti-Mubarak supporters in Tahrir Square in central Cairo.

On Wednesday night, automatic weapons fire was heard in the square after protesters on the two sides were ordered to leave the area. Tanks were seen moving into the area.

Violence had escalated during the day with Molotov cocktails burning surrounding buildings and pro- and anti-Mubarak demonstrators attacking each other with metal rods. Egyptian police used water cannons to disperse the crowds and put out fires.

Earlier in the day, the demonstrators in the square threw rocks at each other and tore down protest banners. The army used tear gas to control the crowds, according to reports.

In Yemen on Thursday, some 20,000 pro- and anti-government demonstrators took to the streets throughout the capital of Saana in what was billed in advance as a "Day of Rage," according to reports. The peaceful demonstrations came a day after President Ali Abdullah Saleh pledged that he would not seek re-election when his term expires in 2013 and that his son would not run for the office. 

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