Last update - 22:35 06/12/2008     
      Egyptian paper urges top cleric to purify his hand after Peres handshake  
      By The Associated Press  
      Tags: Egypt, UN, Peres, Israel news  

      Several opposition newspapers and lawmakers in Egypt called on the 
country's top Islamic cleric to resign Saturday for shaking the Israeli 
president's hand at a conference. 

      Egyptian media has been running a photo of Grand Sheik Mohammed Seyed 
Tantawi shaking hands with Israeli President Shimon Peres almost daily since 
the two met at a United Nations-sponsored interfaith dialogue in New York last 
month. The photo has been accompanied by critical editorials and comments by 
      Al-Osboa newspaper said in an editorial Saturday that Peres' hands were 
tainted with the blood of thousands of Palestinians who have lost their homes 
in Israel. 

      The paper called on Tantawi - the sheik of al-Azhar, Sunni Islam's 
pre-eminent institution and oldest university - to ritually purify his hands 
after the shake. 

      Egypt is one of the only Arab countries to make peace with Israel, but 
the attitude of the country's citizens toward the Jewish state remains cool 
over the treatment of the Palestinians. 

      Tantawi, who was appointed by the Egyptian government, was quoted in 
Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper and several others as saying he shook the Israeli 
president's hand without recognizing him. 

      A spokesman for al-Azhar was quoted in the paper as blaming Tantawi's 
handlers for not paying attention and misdirecting the cleric toward Peres. 

      Hisham Kassem, an Egyptian activist and publisher, expressed doubt about 
Tantawi's version of the story, saying "how can you go to an interfaith meeting 
and not know who Peres is?" 

      "Tantawi needs to be honest with the press," Kassem told The Associated 
Press. "So what if he shook the man's hand? War and anger has gained us 
nothing. There must be time for negotiation." 

      Peres' office declined comment on what it called Egypt's internal 

      But at the time of the meeting, his office said the encounter was 
pleasant, and Tantawi and Peres sat next to each during a dinner and had a very 
serious conversation. 

      Many Egyptian opposition lawmakers have called for the cleric to step 
down over the handshake. 

      "I feel shame because the person who did this is the head of one of 
Islam's greatest institutions," lawmaker Hamdein Sabaheen was quoted as saying 
Saturday in Al-Dustour newspaper. 

      The UN-sponsored interfaith conference held in New York in mid-November 
attracted 80 countries and 14 world leaders, including Saudi Arabia's King 




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