Ahmadinejad seeks strategic axis with Egypt

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on the first visit to Cairo by an Iranian leader in more than three decades, called for a strategic alliance with Egypt and said he had offered the cash-strapped Arab state a loan, but drew a cool response.

Ahmadinejad said outside forces were trying to prevent a rapprochement between the Middle East's two most populous nations, at odds since Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution and Egypt's signing of a peace treaty with Israel in the same year.

“We must all understand that the only option is to set up this alliance because it is in the interests of the Egyptian and Iranian peoples and other nations of the region,” the official MENA news agency quoted him in remarks to Egyptian journalists published on Wednesday.

The two countries have not restored diplomatic ties since Egypt overthrew its long term leader Hosni Mubarak in 2011, but its first Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, gave Ahmadinejad a red-carpet welcome on Tuesday to a summit of Islamic nations.

“There are those striving to prevent these two great countries from coming together despite the fact that the region's problems require this meeting, especially the Palestinian question,” Ahmadinejad said.

Egypt's foreign minister played down the significance of the visit, telling Reuters the Iranian leader, one of several heads of state to get the red-carpet treatment, was in Cairo chiefly for the Islamic summit beginning on Wednesday, “so it's just a normal procedure. That's all.”

He had earlier reassured Gulf Arab countries that Egypt would not sacrifice their security.

Egypt's leading Sunni Muslim scholar scolded Ahmadinejad on Tuesday when he visited the historic al-Azhar mosque and university over Tehran's attitude to its Gulf Arab neighbors and attempts to spread Shi'ite influence in Sunni countries.

In his meeting with Egyptian reporters, MENA said Ahmadinejad denied accusations Iran was interfering in Bahrain, where a Shi'ite majority lives under minority Sunni rule.

Three Egyptians and a Syrian were detained on suspicion of trying to attack the Iranian president at another mosque, security sources said. They were held overnight but released on bail of 500 Egyptian pounds ($75) each on Wednesday.

Video footage shot by a Turkish cameraman appeared to show a bearded man trying twice to throw a shoe at Ahmadinejad as he was mobbed by well-wishers on leaving the Hussein mosque.

The president was not hit but was hustled to his car by security men, stopping to wave before he was driven away.

The security sources said the three Egyptians held were all members of the al-Gamaa al-Islamiya, a hardline Islamist group that took up arms against the state in the 1990s but has moved into mainstream politics since Mubarak was toppled.

In the Arab world, throwing a shoe is a serious insult. An Iraqi journalist hurled a shoe at then-U.S. President George W. Bush during a news conference in Baghdad in 2008, forcing Bush to duck to avoid being hit.

Al-Ahram daily quoted Ahmadinejad as saying in an interview that Iran had offered to lend money to Egypt despite being under international economic sanctions over its nuclear program.

“I have said previously that we can offer a big credit line to the Egyptian brothers, and many services,” he said. He did not say if there had been any response.

The president said the Iranian economy had been affected by sanctions but it is a “great economy” that was witnessing “positive matters”, saying exports were increasing gradually.

The United States and its Western allies have sought to choke off Iran's vital oil exports by embargoing imports from the Islamic republic and cutting its access to shipping, insurance and finance.

Egypt disclosed on Tuesday that its foreign reserves had fallen below the $15 billion level that covers three months' imports despite recent deposits by Qatar to support it.

Tourism has been badly hit by unrest since the uprising that toppled authoritarian Mubarak, and investment has stalled due to the ensuing political and economic uncertainty.

Ahmadinejad said there had been scant progress on restoring ties between the two countries.

“No change happened in the last two years, but discussions between us developed and grew, and His Excellency President Mohamed Morsi visited Iran and met us, as he met the Iranian foreign minister. And we previously contacted Egypt to know about what is happening with Syrian affairs,” he said.

One persistent obstacle to ties in Cairo's eyes was the naming of a street in Tehran after an Egyptian Islamist militant who led the 1981 assassination of President Anwar Sadat, who signed the treaty with Israel.

“On the question of the street name or its removal, these are matters that will be dealt with gradually,” Ahmadinejad said.

Writing by Paul Taylor; editing by Philippa Fletcher

Palestinians throw shoes at U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon

Gaza Palestinians threw slippers or shoes and rocks at a car carrying United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon as he crossed from Israel into the Gaza Strip.

Thursday’s protesters, relatives of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons, tried to block Ban’s entrance into Gaza and demonstrated against what they called his “bias to Israel.” He was scheduled to visit Khan Younis, as well as the headquarters of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.

Ban met Wednesday with Israeli and Palestinian Authority leaders. He called on the Palestinians to stop shooting rockets at Israel and on Israel to stop building in the West Bank in order to bring both sides back to peace negotiations.

Ban is scheduled to deliver the keynote address at the 12th annual Herzliya Conference on Thursday evening.

Palestinian protesters throw shoe at American diplomats

Palestinian protesters confronted a group of U.S. diplomats visiting the West Bank city of Ramallah.

The diplomats, including Jerusalem consulate employees, were in a convoy of vehicles heading to a reception reaffirming cultural and educational ties with the Palestinian Authority, according to reports.

The demonstration, which reportedly was organized through Facebook, included the hurling of a shoe at the diplomats, which is considered a major insult in the Arab world.

The demonstrators protested against U.S. opposition to the Palestinians’ United Nations statehood bid and the U.S. Congress freezing aid to the Palestinian Authority.

Some Palestinians invited to the event stayed away because they were afraid of the protesters, The Associated Press reported.

Crocs rule as Yom Kippur shoe

Like many High Holy Days worshipers, Andrew Steinerman had traditionally dealt with the Yom Kippur prohibition on wearing leather footwear by turning to Converse’s classic Chuck Taylor high-top canvas basketball shoe.

Not anymore. This year the prominent Wall Street analyst sported a pair of black Crocs to his Modern Orthodox shul on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar.

And he wasn’t alone.

From secular beachgoers in Tel Aviv to right-wing Orthodox settlers in Hebron, Crocs — the bulbous-toed, open-back, rubber summer shoe — already were ubiquitous in Israel. Now, reports from several synagogues across America suggest, Crocs have surpassed Chuck Taylors, Keds, flip-flops and a host of other options to become the Yom Kippur shoe in the United States.

“It was so comfortable; I couldn’t believe how cushy it was,” said Steinerman, who opted for the subtle suit-matching black rather than one of the flashier Crocs colors. “Converse doesn’t have the right support. This was a big upgrade.”

Jenny Comita, a features editor at W, also was down on the trend, which she noticed during services at Park Avenue Synagogue, a Conservative congregation on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

“Wearing my high heels, standing during Neilah, I was very jealous of the people wearing Crocs,” she said, referring to the closing service of Yom Kippur. “But I don’t think it looks very good. It sort of ruins the effect. Women shop for this. It’s a day when you are out, people are seeing you.”

Comfort was the issue for Harold Messinger, the prayer leader at Beth Am Israel in suburban Philadelphia and a cantorial student at Gratz College. But he also gave a great deal of thought to color: In recognition of the holiness of the day, Messinger went with his kittel-matching white.

“My wife had to order them,” he said. “Not only were they comfortable, many congregants came up and said what a great idea.”

The only problem, he added, is that Crocs might be too relaxing for Yom Kippur.

“I started wondering, ‘Should I feel guilty about feeling comfortable?’ I didn’t enjoy it fully because of the guilt over enjoying the little rubbery foot massage,” Messinger said. “People shouldn’t be looking at my shoes when they’re supposed to be davening.”

Deborah Brodie, a freelance book editor, was unapologetic about how comfortable she felt in her pale green Crocs during services at Minyan Ma’at, an egalitarian chavurah minyan in Manhattan.

“I’m a little too old to worry about that,” she said. “I need to be able to stand long enough to focus on the davening. The cushioning of these shoes made it possible. It didn’t feel indulgent; it helped me think about the words on the page instead of my feet.”

At least one leading arbiter on all things kosher, the Orthodox Union, has given the comfy rubber shoes the seal of approval. In a Yom Kippur backgrounder on its Web site, the OU declared, “Crocs are fine.”

— Ami Eden, Jewish Telegraphic Agency