Egypt top cleric says Israel should end Gaza blockade

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CAIRO: Egypt s top Muslim cleric, Mohamed Sayed Tantawy, has urged Israel to lift its blockade of Gaza, only days after saying he was unaware the Palestinian territory was under siege, a newspaper reported on Friday.

Tantawy, the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar in Cairo, has been under attack in the opposition press after shaking hands with Israeli President Shimon Peres at a religious conference in the United States last month, and then denying he recognized him.

He called journalists who published pictures of the handshake a group of lunatics and the editors of Israeli newspaper Maariv liars for publishing details of the encounter with Peres.

Asked last week about shaking Peres hand at a time when Israel is maintaining its blockade of Gaza, Tantawy responded: I don t know whether there is a siege of Gaza, the daily Al-Masry Al-Youm reported.

Israel imposed its blockade on the impoverished coastal strip after Hamas seized power there in June 2007.

Tantawy, who is government-appointed, added at the time: What siege? What rubbish? There has been a siege for months.

Al-Masry Al-Youm reported on Friday that Tantawy said in a new statement that Israel should end its tyrannical practices against the Palestinians and end the Gaza blockade.

But Tantawy’s latest statement did not impress his critics.

His floundering is a sign that the Sheikh of Al-Azhar is too small for his post, Wahid Abdel Meguid, an analyst with Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, told Al-Masry Al-Youm.

It s not only his fault, but also the fault of whoever appointed him, Abdel Meguid added. -AFP

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