CAIRO, Egypt - Israeli rabbis were joining senior Muslim and Christian clerics Sunday in the coastal city of Alexandria to begin an interfaith dialogue expected to center on the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.
The unusual three-day conference, blessed by Arab and Israeli political leaders, had been kept quiet though in the works for months. With the volatile atmosphere surrounding Israeli-Palestinian issues, Egyptian officials and media had made no mention of the conference.
Ali El Samman, an aide to the grand sheik of Sunni Islam's prestigious Al-Azhar university in Cairo, said Sunday that the representatives were meeting in Alexandria to try to come to a common declaration about how to end Palestinian-Israeli violence.
"The fact that the representatives of the three religions can sit together is a step," said El Samman, who acts as Sheik Mohammed Sayed Tantawi's liaison to Jews and Christians.
Chief Rabbi Eliahu Bakshi-Doron and Deputy Foreign Minister Michael Melchior, a rabbi, were to join Tantawi at the conference, pulled together by the outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey. Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah of Jerusalem and clerics within Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority, including Cabinet minister Sheik Talal Sidr, also were expected to attend.
An Israeli Foreign Ministry statement in Jerusalem said President Moshe Katsav had sent a special blessing to the summit.
"This dramatic meeting received the blessing of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, (Egyptian) President Hosni Mubarak, (British) Prime Minister Tony Blair," it said.
In December 1997, Tantawi came under fire in Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world when word leaked out he had met with Israel's other chief rabbi, Yisrael Meir Lau.
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