President Shimon Peres issued an official apology to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Wednesday, after right-wing MK Avigdor Lieberman said earlier that the Egyptian president 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 that "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 continued.
Peres expressed regret over Lieberman's remarks, saying "in a memorial ceremony in our parliament, one of the 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 really stable leader for peace in the Middle East. He does not stop for a moment from acting for 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 see what are the chances of furthering the causes of peace in all of our region."
Outgoing prime minister Ehud Olmert also phoned Mubarak and apologized on behalf of the state of Israel for the insulting remarks made by Lieberman. "These kinds of comments should be made, and when they are made they cosist of unnecessary content," Olmert said.
Olmert emphasized to Mubarak that he views Lieberman's comments as detrimental. "Israel sees in Egypt's President a strategic partner and a close friend, and understands the utmost importance of tightening relations with Egypt and strengthening ties between countries in general," Olmert went on to say.
A spokesman for the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, Houssam Zaki, issued a harsh response to Lieberman's verbal attack. In a phone conversation with Haaretz from Cairo, Zaki said that Lieberman's remarks 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," the Egyptian official went on to say, "like President Peres and Prime Minister Olmert, who were on hand to repair the damage."
Defense Minister Ehud Barak addressed the incident during a meeting with European Union ambassadors, saying "I heard there were hurtful comments against Egypt's president. We respect our neighbors, especially Egypt, which is a leading country in the region and with which we have a peace accord, which has weathered difficult trials."
"Peace between Israel and Egypt is a strategic asset," Barak continued. "Any comment like this one is unacceptable."
MK Colette Avital (Labor), formerly a senior foreign ministry official, said that "Lieberman's irresponsible comment about Mubarak caused immense diplomatic damage to Israel and he should be compelled to apologize."
Meretz Chair Zahava Gal-On said that Lieberman, whom she described as a serial pyromaniac, is a "dangerous unstoppable man. His words could cause a crisis with Egypt."
Egypt became the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, but relations have often been frosty since.
Mubarak has only traveled to Israel once - for the funeral of assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 - but he has never come to Jerusalem on an official diplomatic visit.
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