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Rare Interfaith Mideast Peace Conference Concludes with Optimism

Religious leaders in the Middle East have concluded a three day conference after briefing Egypt's President Hosni Mubarek on their Mideast peacemaking efforts, saying their goal was attainable regardless of recent violence in a land they all regard as sacred.

At the conclusion Tuesday of a rare, interfaith, conference held in the Egyptian port city of Alexandria, Muslim, Christian and Jewish religious leaders vowed to work together to bring peace to the Middle East.

The outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury, George Cary, organized the two-day conference.

"We're going to set up a permanent committee in order to bring us together to continue the dialogue to bring to the attention of everyone that the present escalation of violence leads to futility going nowhere and we must get negotiations back on track. Our appeal to political leaders is to do something about it and to resolve the suffering of people in the Holy Land," he said.

A declaration issued following the conference called for, among other things, a religiously sanctioned Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire and a return to negotiations. Conference members also called for Palestinians to prevent attacks on Israelis and for Israelis to stop building settlements and lift travel bans on Palestinians.

The leaders met Tuesday in Cairo with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Israel's chief Rabbi Eliahu Bakshi-Doron said he told Mr. Mubarak he should travel to Israel to meet with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. The rabbi said Mr. Mubarak responded that he would like to, but indicated the current atmosphere makes such a trip very difficult.

Egypt recalled its ambassador from Israel shortly after Israeli-Palestinian violence erupted in September 2000. Egypt accused the Israelis of using excessive force against Palestinian protesters.

An Israeli Foreign Ministry statement said the conference had the blessing of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Rabbi Michael Melicore, the Deputy Foreign Minister of Israel, also attended the conference. He said religion can be what he called "a double edged sword," and consequently urged people of the Middle East to seek a peaceful solution.

"Religion can be a tree of life. Religion can also explode. Religion can also be damaging. What we have done here together is that we are giving a message to all the people's of the Middle East that we want the tree of life, we want the hope of the future," he said.

The religious leaders acknowledged they cannot create peace simply by willing it. However, they said, they will work to make sure the politicians who can make peace hear their message.