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Seven arrests after Egyptian official attacked

Egyptian foreign minister harassed after Sharon meeting

Security personnel carry Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher after rushing him out of the mosque.
Security personnel carry Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher after rushing him out of the mosque.

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Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher was hospitalized in good condition after being attacked Monday in Jerusalem. (December 22)
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Unrest, Conflicts and War

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Seven Palestinians were arrested Monday after Egypt's foreign minister was assaulted and insulted as he tried to worship at one of Islam's most sacred shrines, Israeli police said.

All seven were from East Jerusalem, said police, who did not disclose their identities, the charges they face, or the name of any group with which they are affiliated.

Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher was not hurt in the melee at the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, but he was taken to a hospital after complaining of shortness of breath and tightness in his chest. He has since returned to Egypt.

Maher, making his first visit to Israel in two years, went to the mosque after meeting Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to discuss implementation of the U.S.-sponsored "road map" to peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Dozens of people inside the mosque, upset by the visit with Sharon, shouted insults at Maher and threw shoes at him -- a sign of disrespect in the Arab world. He was hurriedly escorted from the area by his security detail and Israeli police.

After the assault, officials said they believed the protesters were members of a small extremist Islamic group called the Liberation Party.

A spokesman for the Jerusalem police said officers stationed outside the mosque heard the commotion, and the foreign minister's entourage hurriedly escorted the disheveled Maher out. (Aerial view of mosque)

Israeli officials said Jerusalem police took him to an ambulance waiting at the Mugrabi Gate, where he was checked, and the ambulance later took him to Jerusalem's Hadassah Medical Center for further examination.

Palestinian Authority spokesman Saeb Erakat said that the Palestinian Authority condemned the attack.

Maher hears 'a commitment by Israel'

After the talks, Maher said he hoped to see Israel and the Palestinians take steps soon to implement the road map.

Maher said Sharon indicated he might be willing to go along with a Palestinian cease-fire.

"I heard a commitment by Israel to resume the negotiations as soon as possible," Maher said at a news conference with his Israeli counterpart, Sylvan Shalom. "I heard a commitment by Israel to reciprocate a quiet situation -- if there is quietness, there is determination to respond by quietness.

"I heard also that there is a desire to ease the life of the Palestinians, and I made very clear that easing the life of the Palestinians will certainly also ease the life of the Israelis because both lives are linked, both are suffering from the present situation," he said.

Four days of talks outside Cairo about a proposed cease-fire ended December 7 with no agreement among representatives of Palestinian factions -- including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which have claimed responsibility for terrorist attacks on Israelis.

The Mideast road map -- sponsored by the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations -- calls for steps on both sides to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict leading to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state by 2005.

Shalom -- who, according to the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz accepted an invitation to visit Egypt -- thanked the Egyptian government for its efforts to moderate peace.

"Israel, of course, welcomes any reduction in violence, but we hope Egypt will use its influence to push for more permanent steps, like dismantling of terrorist infrastructure and implementation of Palestinian commitments," he said.

Shalom also said he hoped Monday's meeting would help negotiations to set up a meeting between Sharon and Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qorei.

"We are trying very hard for more than a month to schedule this meeting between the two prime ministers but unfortunately it's not scheduled yet," he said. "I hope it will take more few days in order to have this first meeting that will bring after many meetings between the ministers from our both sides."

Maher's visit followed remarks last week by Sharon threatening unilateral changes that would further separate Israel from the Palestinians.

Unilateral threat

Sharon, speaking Thursday at a political convention, threatened a "disengagement" from the Palestinians, which would include moving some Israeli settlements, drawing new security lines and altering the deployment of Israeli forces.

The procedure would be aimed at reducing terrorism and increasing security for Israelis while creating "minimum friction" with Palestinians, Sharon said. The move would not create a final border, and Israel would continue to advance on the road map, he said.

As they have for decades, Palestinians and Israelis are stalled over the Israeli insistence that the Palestinians dismantle militant organizations and the Palestinian insistence that Israel remove settlements and other activities in Palestinian territory. Neither side seems willing to make the first move, and those issues must be resolved before moving on to even thornier problems such as a final border and the status of Jerusalem.

Relations cooled between Israel and Egypt, the first Arab nation to sign a peace treaty with Israel -- in 1979 -- after the current round of violence erupted in September 2000.

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