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Arafat, PM Qurei Condemn Attack on Egypt's FM

President Arafat, PM Qurei, Factions Condemn Attack on Egypt’s FM

Maher: Egypt Not deterred from Making Peace

Palestinian President Yasser Arafat telephoned Egypt’s Foreign Minister Ahmad Maher when he was rushed to hospital after he was jostled by supporters of an extremist group known as the “liberation movement” while he was entering Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied east Jerusalem.

The Palestinian leadership condemned the incident wherein Maher was shoved and knocked unconscious as he was entering Islam’s third holiest sight on Monday. He was later taken to Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem.

President Arafat commissioned a high-ranking Palestinian delegation headed by Farouk Al-Kadoumi, the Secretary-General of the Fatah Central Committee, to head for Cairo today to deliver a message to Maher condemning Monday’s attack.

The delegation will include Parliament Speaker Rafiq Al-Natsheh, Foreign Affairs Minister Nabil Shaath, President Arafat’s Security Advisor Jibril Al-Rjoub, and Chief Justice Sheikh Tayseer Al-Tamimi.

On his part, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmad Qurei said he was “shocked and furious” by the attack.

“We condemn this irresponsible act ... and we will pursue this issue to find out who was behind it,” he told the Arab satellite channel al-Jazeera.

“Maher is a friend of our people. He came to see the Israelis to help revive the peace process.” Qurei further said.

Some witnesses said the protesters, several dozen in number, were members of a small extremist group called “Islamic Liberation Movement”.

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The PNA condemned the attack on Maher, and said it would find the culprits.

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms the assault on Mr. Maher. Mr. Maher's visit to Israel was fully coordinated with Palestinian leadership, and the aim of the visit is to break the vicious cycle of violence and revive the peace process,” said Minister of Negotiations Sa’eb Erekat.

Meanwhile, Palestinian national and Islamic factions condemned the incident, saying it harms the strong relations between Egypt and the Palestinian people. Moreover, they considered the perpetrators a suspicious group who do not abide by the traditions and values of the Palestinian people.

Late Monday, Israeli Police detained seven Palestinians from occupied East Jerusalem in connection with the attack on Maher.

Mohammed Duma, the head of Al-Aqsa’s alms-distribution committee, said, “This was a shameful act. I am very angry that it happened.”

Maher was on a diplomatic mission to Israel to try and resuscitate the morbid peace process between Palestinians and Israelis and to get the “roadmap” to peace back on track.

Earlier Monday, Maher met with Israeli Prime Minister Sharon, who claimed Israel would respond favorably to a ceasefire offer from Palestinian factions.

“We will respond to quiet with quiet,” said a senior source in Sharon’s office, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Although Maher was not scheduled to meet Palestinian leaders on this trip, Egypt’s intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, who has been mediating inter-Palestinian talks on a possible truce, is scheduled to visit the West Bank next week to push factions for a ceasefire.

US President George Bush launched the “roadmap” in June, starting a three-phased process that envisions the creation of a Palestinian state by 2005.

Last Thursday, Sharon threatened to take unilateral steps to separate from the Occupied Palestinian Territory if peace talks fail.

Under Sharon’s “disengagement plan”, Israel will dismantle some illegal settlements and speed up the construction of a unilateral separation wall, which upon completion will sever the territories into isolated cantons and encroach upon thousands of acres of Palestinian land.

Washington said it would oppose any unilateral moves taken by the Jewish State. Sharon’s plan has also been slammed by the PNA as well as by settlers who live illegally on Palestinian land.

Maher: Egypt Not deterred from Making Peace

Meanwhile, Egypt’s FM Maher vowed that his country would not be deterred from mediating between Palestinians and Israelis to forge peace between them.

Israel Radio reported that upon arrival back to Cairo, Maher said the attack would not affect Egypt’s involvement in the peace process.

Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak had voiced in a statement aired on public television “deep regret” for the incident, which he denounced as “irresponsible”.

However, Mubarak said the incident “will not derail Egypt’s efforts to achieve a resumption of Palestinian-Israeli talks, with the effective participation of other peace-loving partners.”

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