Mubarak: Egypt Persuaded Israel Against Land Attack on Beirut

Iran denies having troops in Lebanon, shipping missiles to Hezbollah, says hitting Syria will bring 'unimagineable damage.'

Egypt persuaded Israel against a planned land attack on the Lebanese capital Beirut following Hezbollah's abduction of two Israel Defense Forces soldiers earlier this week, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said Sunday.

The Egyptian leader also disclosed an Iranian offer to negotiate a settlement with Hezbollah as part of Arab initiatives to resolve the crisis, but called Tehran's bid "a trap."

"Egypt was keen not to let the Israelis into Beirut," Mubarak told reporters Sunday after talks with the president of the United Arab Emirates, Sheik Khalifa bin Zayid al-Nuhayyan. "If we hadn't stepped in, Beirut would have been destroyed," Mubarak said.

Mubarak called on Sunday for an unconditional ceasefire to end escalating Israeli-Lebanese violence, saying all sides should give talks a chance.

"It's impossible that anyone on either side will respond to any conditions except in a ceasefire and calm, and then we can talk with logic and reason," Mubarak told reporters at a news conference in which he repeatedly urged Israel to stop fighting.

"I'm calling for an immediate, unconditional ceasefire. Without a ceasefire, people continue to die, infrastructure is destroyed, the people are made homeless. Therefore I call on Israel to end the hostilities. War will not solve this."

Egyptian officials have been talking to the Israelis in a bid to find a diplomatic solution to the latest regional military confrontation, the Egyptian president said.

"We are talking to them more than once a day," he said. "We told them that attacking civilians and civil infrastructure is wrong, because the Lebanese people are helpless."

Like regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia, Egypt has criticized Hezbollah for starting the latest Mideast crisis. Mubarak said he was also in contact with Syrian officials and that Tehran was interested in participating in Arab mediation efforts.

"They (the Iranians) want to attend the Arab foreign ministers meeting and form a joint committee that would have included Hezbollah and Hamas," he said. "Egypt realized that that was a trap."

Moderate Arab nations, such as Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and oil-rich countries in the Gulf have expressed fear that Iran is using its Lebanese Shiite allies to expand its regional influence.

Meanwhile, Iran's top leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei praised Hezbollah Sunday and said it would not give up its weapons.

"Thanks to the power of Hezbollah, the Lebanese resistance has disturbed the dream of the Zionists," Khamenei said in a speech broadcast on state television.

Saudi Arabia and Kuwait donate $70 million to LebanonSaudi Arabia on Sunday donated $50 million to Lebanon in response to a plea for help made by Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora. Its Persian Gulf neighbor Kuwait also agreed to help out, offering $20 million.

The Saudi official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said King Abdullah ordered a fund transfer immediately.

The aid was aimed at "providing urgent relief to lessen the suffering of the Lebanese people in these difficult times," the official said.

On Saturday, Siniora urged Arab countries to provide assistance to his "disaster-stricken country."

Saudi Arabia has criticized Hezbollah for its brazen capture of two Israel Defense Forces soldiers, which sparked Israel's five-day bombardment of Lebanon, calling the operation an "uncalculated adventure."

Also Sunday, a Saudi official said the kingdom was talking with other countries about how to stop the violence between Israel and Hezbollah.

"The Israeli leadership knows that destroying the Lebanese economy and terrorizing the Lebanese people will not serve its security, stability or future in the region," the official said on condition of anonymity.

Kuwaiti Emir Sheik Sabah Al Ahmed Al Sabah pledged the funds to purchase and transport emergency aid to the "brothers in Lebanon to help them face the consequences of that barbaric aggression and to ease their suffering," a Cabinet statement said.

Kuwait has not been as critical of Hezbollah as Saudi Arabia, but its foreign minister, Sheik Mohammed Al Sabah, admonished those who believe "war would produce positive results under the present circumstances" - an indirect reference to the Lebanese guerrilla group.

Calling Israel's attacks "a barbaric aggression," Kuwait's parliament, in a written statement, urged the international community to return "this tragedy" to the United Nations Security Council.

Israel's attack on Lebanon was its heaviest offensive there in 24 years. Five days of heavy bombardment have killed more than 100 people, mostly civilians, and damaged much of the country's infrastructure

"The U.S. president says Hezbollah must be disarmed. It's clear that (the U.S.) and Zionists want this, but it won't happen," he said.

On Saturday, an Israeli source said that 100 Iranian troops from the elite Revolutionary Guards were in Lebanon, and that they helped Hezbollah fire a sophisticated radar-guided missile at an Israeli warship blockading the Lebanese coast late Friday. Israel described the rocket as an Iranian-made, radar-guided C-802 missile.

Iran on Sunday denied the Israeli claims.

But Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi warned Israel that expanding its bombing raids to neighboring Syria would bring "unimaginable damage."

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Friday that any Israeli attack against Syria would be viewed as an aggression on the entire Islamic world.

On Sunday, Israel stepped up its airstrikes on Lebanon including targets in Beirut after Hezbollah rockets hit the northern city of Haifa.

Syria's government vowed Sunday that any possible Israeli attack on its territory would result in firm and immediate retaliation.

"Any aggression against Syria will be met with a firm and direct response whose timing and methods are unlimited," Syria's official news agency quoted Information Minister Mohsen Bilal as saying.

Responding to a report in a pan-Arab daily newspaper that Israel presented Damascus with an ultimatum, an Israel Defense Forces officer said Saturday that targeting Syria is currently not on Israel's agenda.

"We're not a gang that shoots in every direction," the officer said. "It won't be right to bring Syria into the campaign."

The London-based Al-Hayat newspaper reported Saturday that Israel issued an ultimatum to Syrian President Bashar Assad, according to which a regional war would erupt within 72 hours if Damascus does not prevent Hezbollah attacks.

According to the report, a Pentagon source said that if Syria does not try to influence Hezbollah, Israel could bomb essential installations in Syria. The source neither confirmed nor denied rumors that Israel had given Damascus 72 hours to comply with international demands.

The IDF officer emphasized that the Golan Heights frontier has been quiet since 1974, a factor which Israeli views as a vital security asset. The officer said that the Syrian air force as well as additional units are on high alert, a fact which hasn't escaped Israel's attention.

The source added that even though Syria is playing a negative role in the latest crisis, he believes that it had no direct role in the outbreak of fighting.

"Syria is a negative factor, but it is not strong enough in order to instigate all these events," the source said.

According to analysts and senior officials in Syria, Damascus is aware of the threat of an Israeli strike. In recent days, senior officials warned Israel against attacking. Lawmaker Muhammad Habash stated that if Damascus is attacked, another front would open on the Golan Heights. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has warned Israel against attacking Syria.

Syria's ambassador to London said Friday that Damascus wants to remain outside the conflict in Lebanon. He went on to say that Syria demanded that Hezbollah stop launching Katyusha rockets at Israel.