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Egyptian minister attacked in mosque; Extremists hurl shoes in unprovoked attack.

Byline: ED JAMES

THE Egyptian Foreign Minister, Ahmed Maher, was attacked by Muslim extremists yesterday as he prayed at one of Islam's holiest sites -the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

Maher had left cease fire talks with the Israeli leadership to pray at the mosque in the Old City when a small group of extremist worship pers started shouting at him and trying to assault him.

They hurled shoes at him -one of Islam's biggest insults.

Bodyguards surrounded and hustled him out of the compound, supporting him briefly as he appeared to lose his balance.

Witnesses heard him saying,``I'm going to choke,I'm going to choke,'' as Muslims continued to throw shoes at him.

Maher left the compound at a gate above the Western Wall, a Jewish holy site,and entered an Israeli ambulance, where medics treated him.

Half an hour later,he was taken to an Israeli hospital.

Two other members of Maher's entourage were also taken to an Israeli hospital for treatment, the rescue service said.

The incident was an unusual assault on an official of a leading Muslim country by fellow Muslims. The mosque site is one of the most hotly contested places in Mideast diplomacy -also the location of the biblical Jewish Temples.

Earlier, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon indicated to Maher that Israel would respond favourably to a cease fire offer from Palestinian militants,an Israeli official said.

Maher met Sharon and other senior Israeli officials during his first trip to Israel in more than two years.

He was in Israel in an effort to restart talks on the stalled road map plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Egypt, which has often played a mediator's role between Israel and the Palestinians,has been pressuring Palestinian militants to halt attacks on Israel.
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Dec 23, 2003
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