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Egypt's Brotherhood blasts mufti's Jerusalem visit

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood on Thursday denounced a rare visit to Jerusalem by the nation's top Islamic theologian that broke with decades of opposition to traveling to areas under Israeli control.

Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa said his two-hour visit on Wednesday was a symbolic show of solidarity with the Palestinians' claim to Israeli-held east Jerusalem.

But it violated standing policy by Egypt's Muslim and other factions that there should be no contacts with Israel except after a just and comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace settlement is reached. Egypt and Israel signed a peace treaty in 1979, but most Egyptians view the Jewish state as their top enemy.

Osama Yassin, a senior official of the Brotherhood's political arm, said Gomaa must be held to account for his visit to Jerusalem, where he prayed at the Al-Aqsa mosque, Islam's third holiest shrine.

"What he did cannot be justified and cannot be endorsed," Yassin said in comments posted on the website of the Brotherhood, Egypt's largest political group. He did not elaborate.

Clerics from the Cairo-based Al-Azhar, the world's foremost seat of Sunni Islamic religious learning, planned to meet later Thursday to discuss the visit, which made front-page news in Cairo's newspapers.

Gomaa was appointed by to his post in 2003 by ousted leader Hosni Mubarak. He heads Dar al-Ifta, which advises Muslims on spiritual and life issues ranging from marriage rituals to commercial dealings.

Israelis have watched with concern the rise of Islamists in Egypt after Mubarak's ouster a year ago. Islamists now dominate the first post-Mubarak parliament and several are running for president in elections due next month.

Public opinion in Egypt is generally hostile to warmer relations with Israel, and many had criticized Mubarak for closely coordinating policies with Israel. In September a mob of protesters attacked the Israeli embassy in Cairo after Israeli forces killed five Egyptian soldiers in the Sinai Peninsula during a pursuit of militants. Israel said the killings were accidental.

Gomaa's spokesman, Ibrahim Negm, said the visit was organized by the Jordanian royal family to inaugurate an Islamic research center. Gomaa is a member of the board of trustees of the center.