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Egyptian diplomat downplays mosque attack

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

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Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher goes to the hospital after being accosted in Jerusalem. (December 22)
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JERUSALEM (CNN) -- The Egyptian diplomat accosted by a group of Palestinians this week at Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem called the assault "a small event," saying that he was never in harm's way.

"I do not think there was a moment of danger, but I was nervous because people pushed me very hard," said Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher, who returned home after Monday's attack.

Maher went to the mosque after meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to discuss implementation of the U.S.-sponsored "road map" to peace between Israelis and Palestinians. It was the diplomat's first visit to Israel in two years.

Egyptian officials have been trying to persuade Palestinian militant groups to agree to a cease-fire with the Israelis.

Maher wasn't hurt in the melee but went to an Israeli hospital after complaining of shortness of breath and tightness in his chest.

Dozens of worshippers inside the mosque -- one of Islam's most sacred shrines -- shouted insults at Maher and threw shoes at him. Officials said those worshippers belonged to a small extremist Islamic group called the Liberation Party.

Maher's security detail and Israeli police hurriedly whisked him to the hospital.

Speaking to reporters late Monday at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, Maher described the scene.

"There was a man who stopped my car because I met with Israeli officials, and then another man came who also accused me," he said.

"At the exact same time, some of the worshippers thought it better that I leave the mosque and tried to push me out of the mosque, and others wanted me to stay in the mosque to pray."

Maher continued, "Then I found myself in between two people, those that wanted me to stay, and those that wanted me to leave and a situation where people were pushing me from both sides. They didn't want to hurt me -- some even wanted to protect me as I was leaving the mosque."

Israeli police arrested seven Palestinians from East Jerusalem in connection with the attack.

The mosque is on the site known by Jews as the Temple Mount -- Judaism's most sacred spot -- and by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, traditionally considered the place where the prophet Muhammad ascended into heaven.

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