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Christian, Jewish, Muslim Clerics Try to Bring Peace to Middle East - 2002-01-21

Jewish, Muslim, and Christian clerics are meeting in Egypt with the hope of helping to bring peace to the Middle East.

It is being called "The Religious Conference on Israeli-Palestinian Tensions."

At the request of the Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, senior Muslim, Jewish, and Christian clerics agreed to meet behind closed doors in Alexandria, Egypt, for a three-day meeting. The clerics say they are trying to create an atmosphere conducive to achieving peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Meetings like this are not unprecedented, but they are extremely rare, and not always welcomed.

Five years ago, for example, the grand sheik of Islam's al-Azhar University in Cairo, Mohammed Sayed Tantawi, who is hosting the latest meeting, met secretly with a top Israeli rabbi. Mr. Tantawi came under fire both in Egypt and throughout the Arab world when word of the meeting leaked out.

The Israeli foreign ministry said in a statement the meeting has received the blessing of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak as well as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

But Sedki el-Dejani, a religious analyst and writer in Cairo, says the best the religious leaders can hope for is to provide the politicians with something positive to consider. Peace, he said, must come from the politicians. "They can help to remind and to create a positive climate, but they can not bring them to peace," he said. "No. The matter of coming to peace it needs also, in the beginning, the politicians who will hear these things."

Those participating in the conference, including Rabbi Eliahu Bakshi-Doron, one of Israel's leading rabbis, said the aim of the conference is to try to agree on a common declaration about how to end Palestinian-Israeli violence.

To avoid press speculation, members of the media have been barred from covering the gathering, but the conference is expected to produce a joint communique Tuesday.