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Olmert apologizes to Mubarak for official's taunt

Lieberman's comments may cause offence in Egypt

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert apologized to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Wednesday after rightwing MP Avigdor Lieberman said on Wednesday that if Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak does not wish to visit Israel he can "get lost".

The fiery ultra-nationalist Lieberman, a former strategic affairs minister, was speaking in parliament where he heads the Yisrael Beitenu party which has 11 of the 120 seats.

Avigdor Lieberman, who quit Olmert's governing coalition in January in protest at peace efforts with the Palestinians, blasted Israeli leaders for regularly flying out to Egypt to meet Mubarak without insisting on "reciprocity".

"If he wants to speak to us, let him come here. If he doesn't want to come here, he can get lost," Lieberman said in a speech to parliament.

In apologizing, Israel is apparently aware that Lieberman's comments may cause offence in Egypt even though he is no longer in the government.

Mubarak attended the 1995 funeral of assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin but has not come to Israel since. Ties between Israel and Egypt, which signed a landmark peace accord in 1978, were strained by the breakdown of talks on the Palestinian track which led to an eruption of violence in 2000.

Olmert's office said that he had spoken with Mubarak by telephone and apologized for Lieberman's "crude statements".

"The prime minister stressed that Israel views Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak as a strategic partner and a close friend," Olmert's office said in a statement.

Israeli President Shimon Peres, who met Mubarak at an Egyptian resort on the Red Sea last week, deplored Lieberman's "impolite remark".

"I just talked to him (Mubarak) 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," Peres said in a statement.