- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 20, 2007

EGYPT

Al-Azhar’s top cleric accepts papal invite

VATICAN CITY — One of Sunni Islam’s most senior clerics, Sheik Mohammed Sayed Tantawi, has accepted an invitation to visit Pope Benedict XVI, the Vatican announced yesterday.

In the latest step by Pope Benedict to improve relations with Muslims, the invitation was delivered in person to the grand sheik of al-Azhar mosque in Cairo, by Cardinal Paul Poupard, the Vatican’s head of interreligious dialogue.

“The pope’s invitation to meet in Rome was accepted with satisfaction,” the Vatican said in a statement. It did not specify when the meeting would take place. Pope Benedict provoked protests across the Muslim world last year when he quoted 14th-century Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus, who said the prophet Muhammad told Muslims “to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”

WEST BANK

Palestinians urge protests over Al-Aqsa

RAMALLAH — The Palestinian parliament yesterday urged that Arab states cut ties with Israel to protest excavation work near Islam’s third-holiest site, which has triggered Muslim protests.

The Palestinian Legislative Council, controlled by the Islamic party Hamas, also called on the U.N. Security Council to press Israel to safeguard Islamic and Christian sites in Jerusalem.

Few Arab countries have ties with Israel. Egypt and Jordan signed peace treaties with the Jewish state, and some Gulf Arab states have lower-level contacts. Israel says the work near al-Aqsa is to salvage artifacts before construction of a pedestrian bridge to a site sacred to Muslims and Jews.

TURKEY

Erdogan is disliked, but party is favored

Most Turks oppose Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan becoming president in the upcoming April election, but would still vote for his Justice and Development Party (known by its Turkish acronym, AKP), opinion polls suggested yesterday.

In one poll, published in most major Turkish newspapers, 57.3 percent said they oppose Mr. Erdogan’s presidency, compared with 35 percent who support it and 7.7 percent with no opinion.

But another opinion poll still put Mr. Erdogan’s AKP ahead in the polls for parliamentary elections scheduled for November. Only parties that win 10 percent or more of the vote can be represented in parliament. The National Assembly elects the president for a single, seven-year term, and the mandate of incumbent Ahmet Necdet Sezer expires in May.

Weekly notes …

Syria is calling for talks with the United States to cover all areas of contention in the Middle East, state newspaper Ath-Thawra said in an editorial yesterday. The government “insists on a serious and profound dialogue on all subjects without exception.” Washington accuses Damascus of backing militants in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories. … Israeli-Russian billionaire and football tycoon Arkady Gaydamak said yesterday he will create a new political party — a move likely to further roil Israel’s already turbulent political field. Mr. Gaydamak, an ally of Likud chief Benjamin Netanyahu, said his party would draw on his popularity among Israel’s large Russian minority and focus on socioeconomic issues.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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