Egyptian leaders showed signs of concern Sunday for stability in Syria after the death of the president Hafez Assad, reacting cautiously to the news and being slow to announce who would attend his funeral.
President Hosni Mubarak held an emergency cabinet meeting Sunday morning to discuss the situation in Syria with his top ministers, although the position in Damascus appeared to remain under control.
"We spoke exclusively about what is happening in Syria because (Assad's death) is a highly important event and stability in Syria is something that concerns us," Mubarak told reporters after the meeting.
The Egyptian president refrained from voicing explicit support for the late president's 34-year-old son and probable successor, Bashar Assad.
Instead he chose to answer a journalist's question about succession by saying, "We will support the (Syrian) leadership and respect the view of the Syrian people in their choice of president."
"We understand that there is one candidate (for president), Dr Bashar" Assad, Mubarak said, implying that there has been no direct contact between Cairo and Damascus since Assad died Saturday.
Mubarak's foreign minister, Amr Mussa, told reporters Saturday night he had tried to call his Syrian counterpart, Faruq Shara, but that he was "unreachable," in a string of meetings.
Mussa said he would call him later, but a source at the foreign ministry told AFP there had been no contact between the two men by Sunday evening.
While several Arab leaders have telephoned or sent messages to Bashar Assad, offering their condolences, Mubarak has not contacted the heir apparent, choosing instead to salute his late father as an Arab "hero" while expressing hardly veiled fears for Syria's future.
Mubarak said he "implored God to preserve Syria, our brother nation, from all evil, in the framework of complete national unity and total Arab solidarity," in a televised statement.
Cairo has also been late in announcing Egyptian representation at Assad's funeral, with still no official word by Sunday evening on who would attend.
"It's still too early to speak of my participation at the funeral, but we will certainly participate in it as soon as the place and date are set," Mubarak said Sunday although the time of the funeral had already been set Saturday evening.
Sources at the president's headquarters said, however, that Mubarak was planning to attend the ceremony which is due to be held Tuesday in Assad's home village of Kerdaha, 300 kilometers (190 miles) north of Damascus.
Egypt has long believed that the death of Hafez Assad would have serious consequences for the future of the region, but has made it known that it would not favor a softening of Syria's position in peace negotiations with Israel.
Assad's defense of Syria "was not a personal stance, but the stance of all Syria," Mussa has said previously. "Egypt will continue to support the efforts of the Syrian people to recover all their land."
Mubarak, who in the 1960s underwent military training with Assad in Moscow, called three days of official mourning following the announcement of the Syrian president's death – (AFP)
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