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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 December, 2003, 05:33 GMT
Suspects seized over Maher attack
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher
Maher complained of breathing problems
Israeli police have detained seven Palestinians after Egypt's foreign minister was attacked in Jerusalem.

Ahmed Maher needed hospital treatment after radical Palestinians pelted him with shoes as he visited the al-Aqsa mosque.

Mr Maher later returned to Egypt and dismissed the incident as "a piece of foolish behaviour".

The minister visited Israel for the first time in two years for talks on the Israeli-Palestinians peace process.

The minister visited the mosque following a series of meetings with senior Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom.

Correspondents say his assailants are likely to have been angered by the talks between the minister of an Arab Muslim nation and Israel, which they regard as an illegitimate state on Arab land.

'No impact'

Palestinians bombarded Mr Maher inside and outside the mosque.

Looking ashen-faced and panic-stricken, Mr Maher was hurried away by his bodyguards and Israeli police.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher

He complained of being short of breath and was taken to hospital for treatment.

Israeli police said they arrested seven Palestinians, reportedly from a fringe militant group called the Liberation Party, in connection with the assault.

Mr Sharon called the Jerusalem hospital after the attack.

"I understand you will stay with us a while," he joked with the shaken Egyptian minister.

After being given an electrocardiogram, Mr Maher left the hospital in a motorcade for the airport and returned to Cairo.

Arriving back in Egypt, the minister told reporters the assault "will have no impact" on Egypt's role as a mediator between Israel and the Palestinians.

He described the attack as "just a piece of foolish behaviour".

But the BBC's Jill McGivering, in Jerusalem, says the incident is likely to prove embarrassing for the Israeli and Palestinian authorities, as well as Egypt.

Our correspondent says Israeli officials saw the visit as an important step towards improving relations between the two countries after a three year period of diplomatic strain.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said he "deeply regrets" the attack.

The Palestinian Authority "firmly condemned" the attack, Palestinian minister Saeb Erekat told French news agency AFP, while Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei said he was "shocked and furious".


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