CAIRO, Egypt -- British Prime Minister John Major, meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak amid ceremonies marking the 50th anniversary of the World War II Battle of El Alamein, said Saturday the fight marked a crucial victory for the Allies.
'I think that it is perfectly clear that if it hadn't been for the El Alamein battle, neither President Mubarak nor I would be standing here as leaders of free nations,' Major said at a joint news conference with Mubarak.
Mubarak, meanwhile, called the clash at El Alamein, 189 miles northwest of Cairo, 'a very famous battle which made great changes all over the world.'
Major heads a delegation of officials, including British Secretary of Defense Malcolm Rifkind, in Egypt for a two-day visit.
Major and Mubarak met Saturday in a closed session, where they disccussed ways Egypt and Britain can work to resolve tensions stemming from the downing of a U.S. airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. The U.N. imposed sancions on Libya after Tripoli refused to turn over two suspects in that bombing and four suspects accused in the 1989 downing of a French airliner over Niger.
Egypt is mediating between Libya and other nations to resolve the international stalemate, and Major praised Mubarak for his contributions.
'There's nothing new in the British position on the Lockerbie affair,' Major said after the meeting. He said Libya should surrender the suspects 'and until this is determined the sanctions will remain.'
The two leaders were also thought to have discussed the Middle East peace negotiations, issues relating to regional security, the Persian Gulf and Iraq.
Major told reporters he and Mubarak discussed 'a range of matters in absolute privacy.'
The British prime minister said Egypt will search diligently to find the people who attacked a group of tourists Wednesday, killing a British citizen.
'I have no doubts that Egyptian authorities will do all they can to catch the perpetrators of this particular wicked act and ensure that they are suitably punished,' he said.
Mubarak downplayed the possibility that the attack could hurt tourism in Egypt.
'We are not afraid for tourism. It is going very well,' he said.
The two leaders also discussed the Oct. 12 earthquake in Cairo. The quake, which registered 5.9 on the Richter scale, killed hundreds of people, injured thousands more, crumbled tenement houses, seriously damaged Islamic monuments and rattled ancient Egyptian structures.
Major said he met with Egyptian first lady Suzanne Mubarak, president of the Egyptian Red Crescent, the Islamic equivalent of the Red Cross, and told her Britain is prepared to offer 'all possible forms of assistance.'
Major praised Mubarak for helping Egypt develop a stronger relationship with Britain.
'Egypt is a very important power in this part of the world and is a very good friend of the United Kingdom,' Major said.
In addition to Major, the prime ministers of France and Greece, as well as scores of foreign ministers and dignitaries, are also scheduled to take part in El Alamein commemorations.
The battle marked the turning point for the Allies against the Axis powers, helping them take control of North Africa.
On Oct. 23, 1942, troops of the 8th British Army under the command of Gen. Bernard Montgomery opened an offensive against German forces, led by Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, around El Alamein with fierce air and artillery bombardments.
The British launched their attack with 195,000 troops -- about 90,000 more than the German and Italian forces combined -- and twice as many tanks and artillery. Nov. 2, the British troops had penetrated 3 miles into Axis lines. Nov. 6, 20,000 Axis soldiers had been captured. On Nov. 8, British and American vessels landed in North Africa.
Those killed in the two-week battle were 32,000 German and Italian soldiers and 13,500 members of the British 8th Army.