Lieberman Says Mubarak Can 'Go to Hell'; Peres, Olmert Apologize

President Shimon Peres issued an official apology to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak yesterday after right-wing MK Avigdor Lieberman said he could "go to hell."

During a special Knesset plenary session marking the seventh anniversary of the assassination of far-right minister Rehavam Ze'evi (Gandhi), the Yisrael Beiteinu chairman said, "Gandhi would have never approved of our self-effacement vis-a-vis the Egyptians. Time and time again our leaders go to Egypt to meet Mubarak, and he has never made a single official visit.

"Every self respecting leader would have conditioned such meetings on reciprocation. If he wants to talks to us, he should come here, and if he doesn't want to come, he can go to hell," Lieberman said.

Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Houssam Zaki harshly denounced Lieberman's statements, telling Haaretz by phone from Cairo that they don't warrant a response.

"This is not the first time that man has spoken against Egypt. His anti-Egypt and anti-Arab sentiments are well known. He is a racist, but on top of that, he proved today that he is also impolite," Zaki told Haaretz.

"It is comforting to know that there are smart politicians in Israel, like President Peres and Prime Minister [Ehud] Olmert, who were on hand to repair the damage," he added.

Peres expressed regret over Lieberman's remarks, saying, "In a memorial ceremony in our parliament, one of the Knesset members made an impolite remark concerning President Mubarak. All of us are very sorry about it. I want to make clear that we have the highest respect for President Mubarak. He is a very stable force for peace in the Middle East. He does not stop for a moment from acting to bring peace. And he continues to do so. I just talked to him on the phone, and I am so glad that he is trying to further peace in our region."

Outgoing prime minister Ehud Olmert also called Mubarak to apologize on behalf of the State of Israel. "Those comments should not have been made. From the moment they were uttered, they were unnecessary and damaging," Olmert said.

Olmert emphasized to Mubarak that he views Lieberman's comments as detrimental. "Israel considers Egypt's president a strategic partner and a close friend, and understands the utmost importance of strengthening relations with Egypt," Olmert said.