Sheikh Ahmed El-Tayeb 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany)
The Grand Imam of Egypt's powerful al-Azhar Mosque denounced Israel's strikes on Gaza on Wednesday, calling them the "Zionist army's bombing of innocent civilians", Egyptian and Saudi news sources reported.
In his statement on Wednesday, Mohamed Ahmed El Tayeb warned the "Zionist entity" against continuing the strikes, which he said were "brutal" and would lead the entire region into a wider conflict.
El Tayeb called on the United Nations and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to act for the people of Gaza and deter the "usurper entity from exercising its barbarism against defenseless civilians", according to Saudi Arabia's Bab news site.
The Grand Imam said Palestinians in Gaza had a "right to live safely like any other human beings."
However, in his statement El Tayeb did not mention or allude to the rocket attacks against Israel.
On Wednesday, Israel's permanent representative in the United Nations, Ron Prosor, said in a strongly-worded letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon that Palestinian terror organizations launched more than 150 rockets onto Israeli territory over the past few days.
El Tayeb is a powerful figure in Egypt and the Sunni world. The al-Azhar mosque is part of the al-Azhar University, considered the world's leading center Sunni Islamic jurisprudence.
The Grand Imam has previously spoken out against Israel and the Jews, stating last year that he believes Jews "all over the world" are trying to prevent Islamic and Egyptian unity.
In a 2011 Muslim Brotherhood rally in Cairo, where Brotherhood members and Palestinian guest speakers called for Muslims to wage jihad [holy war] against Israel, El Tayeb told the crowd that Muslims should not allow "Zionists" to "Judaize Jerusalem,"
and said that the al-Aqsa Mosque was "under an offensive from the Jews".