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Israeli officials: Mubarak wants honorable exit

By Matti Friedman

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Feb. 11 2011 8:00 a.m. MST

Anti-government protesters hold shoes in the air as a sign of contempt as they surround the state television building following Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's televised speech, on the Corniche in downtown Cairo, Egypt Thursday, Feb. 10, 2011. Mubarak refused to step down or leave the country and instead handed his powers to his vice president Thursday, remaining president and ensuring regime control over the reform process, which stunned protesters demanding his ouster, who waved their shoes in contempt and shouted, "Leave, leave, leave."

Mohammed Abu Zaid, Associated Press

JERUSALEM — Hosni Mubarak realizes he must step down and is looking for an honorable way out, a former Israeli defense minister who has long known Egypt's embattled leader said Friday.

Binyamin Ben-Eliezer of Israel's Labor Party said he spoke with Mubarak just hours before the Egyptian president's speech late Thursday in which he transferred some authorities to his deputy but refused to step down.

Mubarak's refusal angered hundreds of thousands of Egyptian protesters demanding he relinquish his three-decade grip on power. Anti-government demonstrations have rocked Egypt for more than two weeks, and protesters flooded the streets again Friday.

Describing his conversation with Mubarak, Ben-Eliezer said: "He knew that this was it, that this was the end of the road."

"He was looking for only one thing — give me an honorable way out. Let me leave in an honorable fashion," Ben-Eliezer told Israel's Army Radio.

Meanwhile, hundreds took to the streets in Jordan and Iraq on Friday, with some protesters supporting the push for Mubarak's ouster and others complaining about corruption and lack of services.

"Hosni Mubarak, get out, the Arab world is on fire," chanted a crowd of about 400 supporters of Jordan's Muslim Brotherhood, the country's main opposition group. "We'll throw you in the Nile, if you don't leave," they shouted.

About 1,000 demonstrators in three Jordanian cities demanded the ouster of Prime Minister Marouf al-Bakhit, appointed just last week by King Abdullah II to blunt popular discontent over rising fuel and food prices, corruption and unemployment.

"We want jobs, we want the political system to change," said unemployed college graduate Yousef Kamal, 23, marching in the capital Amman. Demonstrators said they have no confidence in the new prime minister's ability to bring change.

It was the fifth week of protests in Jordan, inspired by unrest in Tunisia and later Egypt, though the numbers of marchers has decreased since the appointment of the new prime minister.

In the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, several hundred marchers raised banners reading, "No to corruption — yes for freedom" and "Our streets are full of mud and your pockets are full of money." Protesters briefly scuffled with troops.

In the capital's Shiite Muslim Sadr City neighborhood, about 2,000 marched through the streets. Some carried empty oil barrels to symbolize the irony of widespread poverty in a country that sits atop one of the world's largest oil reserves.

A leading Shiite Muslim preacher, meanwhile, urged governments to heed protests that have erupted in several areas of the Arab world. Ignoring the demands of protesters "will absolutely lead to unpleasant results," Ahmed al-Safi, a spokesman for Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's most revered Shiite cleric, told Muslim worshippers during Friday prayers.

In the Gaza Strip, a Friday protest inspired by the Egypt demonstrations — and organized on Facebook — against Hamas rule in the Palestinian territory attracted virtually no supporters.

Hamas security personnel in uniform and plainclothes were deployed around the areas where the protests, organized by supporters of the rival Fatah, were to take place. Police briefly detained two youths who were seen filming with a cell phone camera.

In Israel, there was concern that the disappearance of Mubarak from the political stage could mean a breakdown of order in Egypt or the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's largest and best-organized opposition group.

Both scenarios could threaten Israel's security. Egypt signed a peace treaty with neighboring Israel in 1979.

However, former Soviet refusenik Natan Sharansky sounded a note of optimism about events in Egypt. Israel was wrong to depend on a dictator to keep the peace and must encourage democracy, said Sharansky, who was released from a Soviet prison 25 years ago and now handles ties with Diaspora Jewry as head of the Jewish Agency.

"This is the moment for those Israelis who believe that peace has to be built bottom-up," he told the daily Jerusalem Post in an interview published Friday. "This is a great moment. Let's try to use it."

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Associated Press writers Hadeel al-Shalchi in Cairo, Dale Gavlak and Jamal Halaby in Amman, Bushra Juhi in Baghdad and Ibrahim Barzak in Gaza City, Gaza Strip contributed reporting.

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