JERUSALEM (AP) — Several months ago, Israel offered embattled Hosni Mubarak asylum but the then-president of Egypt turned the offer down "because he was a patriot," an Israeli lawmaker said Wednesday.
Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, a longtime friend of the ousted Egyptian leader, told Army Radio he proposed that Mubarak seek asylum in Israel's Red Sea port city of Eilat, which is located on Israel's border with Egypt's Sinai desert.
The offer came up during a meeting between Mubarak and Ben-Eliezer in Sharm el-Sheikh, an Egyptian resort also on the Red Sea.
"I met him in Sharm el-Sheikh and told him that the distance was very short, and perhaps this would be a good time for him to heal himself," Ben-Eliezer said. "I am sure the Israeli government would have accepted him, but he refused because he is a patriot."
Ben-Eliezer said the offer came from him and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. A Netanyahu spokesman was not able to immediately confirm that the offer had been cleared with the government.
While Israel's relations with Egypt have been chilly since the two nations made peace in 1979, Israel valued Mubarak as a source of stability with shared interests in containing Iran and its radical Islamic proxies in the region.
Mubarak's ouster in February after a nearly 30-year autocratic reign sent shudders throughout the Israeli political and defense establishment, which fears the loss of an important regional bulwark against radical Islam.
Ben-Eliezer spoke shortly before the ailing, 83-year-old Mubarak was wheeled into a Cairo courtroom lying on a hospital gurney Wednesday at the start of his historic trial on charges of corruption and ordering the killing of protesters during the uprising that ousted him.
The spectacle of the ashen-faced Mubarak lying inside a cage of mesh and iron bars was the first look the Egyptian people has had of their former leader since he delivered a defiant speech on Feb. 10 refusing to resign. The ensuing uproar forced him to step down the following day and flee the Egyptian capital.