Israelis relieved that Mubarak survived terror attack

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JERUSALEM — The Israeli government reacted with undisguised relief at the news that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak survived unscathed the attack on his life in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa.

President Ezer Weizman and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin voiced their good wishes — along with dozens of other world statesmen — directly to the Egyptian leader on Monday.

Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, in a statement to the media, praised Mubarak's role in "leading the region towards peace" and expressed his joy that this role had not been destroyed by the terrorist attackers.

Mubarak, 67, whose predecessor Anwar Sadat was gunned down in 1981, flew back to Cairo after the attack.

The attack occurred when gunmen opened fire on Mubarak's armored limousine taking him from the airport to an African summit in the Ethiopian capital.

According to news reports, the attackers were of Arab origin. In the shootout that followed, two of the assailants were killed, as were two Ethiopian security agents.

Other gunmen and the driver of a van that intercepted Mubarak's three-car motorcade reportedly fled the scene.

No one claimed immediate responsibility for the attack, though the Vanguards of the Conquest, a group linked with the organization that killed Sadat, welcomed the assassination attempt.

Mubarak's government has been waging a three-year battle with Muslim militants seeking the establishment of an Islamic state in Egypt.

After arriving back in Cairo, Mubarak said he suspected the attackers had gone from neighboring Sudan to Ethiopia to launch the attack. But Sudan denied any involvement and expressed regret over the attack.

President Clinton, speaking in San Francisco, where he was attending ceremonies marking the 50th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations, condemned the attack and vowed that the enemies of peace in the Middle East would not succeed.

Political observers in Jerusalem, meanwhile, wondered aloud whether the regional peace process would have indeed been dealt a terminal blow had the would-be assassins in Ethiopia succeeded.

Rabin immediately wove the failed assassination episode into his political rhetoric.

In a speech to his Labor Party faction Monday afternoon in the Knesset, Rabin said "some people" fail to recognize who the true enemies of Israel and of peace were these days.

The enemies were Islamic fundamentalist terrorists supported by Iran, Rabin asserted.

The assailants in Addis Adaba, he hinted, were drawn from that same reservoir of hatred and violence that threatened to drown the dream of peace in the region.

In references both to the rightist opposition parties and to hardliners within his own Labor Party, Rabin spoke of an inability to address "the realities of today and tomorrow — rather than those of yesterday."

But the opposition, too, sought to turn news of the assassination attempt to its own cause.

Right-wing politicians pointed to the inherent instability within the Arab world.

They raised the question of Egypt's own commitment to its peace with Israel in the event of a fundamentalist revolution there — or even a non-violent change of government.

And they pointed out that Syria's President Hafez Assad, despite his two decades in power, has abundant foes and could be felled by an assassin.