- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 19, 2007

EGYPT

Talks cultivate ties with Iran

CAIROEgypt and Iran held rare talks at the senior official level in Cairo yesterday, and Egypt said dialogue would continue on restoring full diplomatic relations, which were broken off after the Iranian revolution in 1979.

One diplomat said Iran would seek Egyptian support on its nuclear program, which Tehran says is peaceful. Egypt has a seat on the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Western powers, led by the United States, accuse Iran of using its nuclear power program as a screen for development of nuclear arms.

Egypt and Iran maintain interests sections in Tehran and Cairo, and their ministers interact at international gatherings, but their senior officials do not often exchange visits.

Egypt and Iran came close to restoring full diplomatic relations in late 2003, but the Iranians failed to meet an Egyptian demand that they remove a commemorative mural in Tehran of Khaled al-Islambouli, leader of the group that assassinated former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981.

SAUDI ARABIA

Leading cleric decries bin Laden

RIYADH — A leading Saudi cleric has publicly denounced Osama bin Laden, a rare move among clerics in his native Saudi Arabia who have avoided direct criticism of the al Qaeda leader.

Salman al-Awdah issued his “open letter to Osama bin Laden” on his Web site, www.islamtoday.net, this week and read it out on a show he presents on Saudi-owned pan-Arab channel MBC.

Western and Arab critics of Saudi Arabia’s hard-line religious establishment have often criticized senior clerics for failing to unequivocally distance themselves from the mastermind of the September 11 attacks.

Bin Laden used to single out Sheik al-Awdah as an independent cleric worthy of respect, but the cleric — jailed in the 1990s for criticizing the U.S.-allied Saudi royals over corruption and pro-Western foreign policy — has since toned down his rhetoric.

EGYPT

Brotherhood feast banned

CAIRO — Egyptian authorities have banned the Muslim Brotherhood from holding their annual Ramadan event as part of a crackdown on the country’s largest opposition movement, the group’s No. 2 said yesterday.

Mohammed Habib told Agence France-Presse that security services pressured the management of the hotel where the iftar, or the breaking of the Ramadan fast, was to be held Saturday.

LEBANON

Israeli planes fly low over south

TYRE — Israeli warplanes made low-altitude passes over southern Lebanon yesterday in defiance of a U.N. cease-fire resolution, Lebanese police said.

Six aircraft violated Lebanese airspace about 10 a.m., swooping low over the port cities of Sidon and Tyre, where they caused sonic booms. The planes also flew over the Bint Jbeil region, a stronghold of the Hezbollah militant group, they said.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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