Agence France-Presse CAIRO: Muslim authorities have stepped in to keep a wave of anti-Semitic sentiment from getting out of control, disowning an edict by a firebrand cleric calling for Israeli Jews to be killed. On the eve of last week s truce in the month-long war between Israel and Hezbollah, cleric Safwat Al-Higazi issued an edict calling on worshippers to kill any Zionist anywhere in wartime. Speaking on the religious satellite network Al-Nas, the Cairo imam specified that the use of fire arms, knives and poison should be preferred to suicide bombings in order to spare innocents. Higazi later limited the edict to Israeli Jews, whom he said were all reservists in the army and therefore legitimate targets. I myself am ready to slash the throat of any Israeli I meet, he told the Sawt Al-Umma newspaper. Popular resentment over the Israeli offensive in Lebanon is close to boiling point in Egypt, one of only two Arab countries to have a peace treaty with the Jewish state. Al-Azhar mosque, the leading theological authority for many Sunni Muslims, had to step in with a counter-fatwa and banned Higazi from preaching at Friday prayers. Killing Jews on the Egyptian territory would be a terrorist act, said the edict, issued three days after Higazi s. However, the Al-Azhar fatwa said nothing about killing Jews in other countries. In Tuesday s edition of the independent Al-Masry Al-Youm daily, Egypt s government-appointed grand mufti, Ali Gomaa, explained that any Israeli who has been granted a visa should be spared. A visa is a safe-conduct pass granted by the authorities to civilians and travelers wishing to enter a country, which bans his killing even if there is a war between us and his country, the sheikh told the newspaper. Gomaa had initially reacted to Israel s offensive in Lebanon by praising the resistance of Hassan Nasrallah s Hezbollah militants against the blood-thirsty murderers and condemning the lies of the Israeli government. These lies have exposed the true and hideous face of the blood-suckers, he had told the state-owned Al-Ahram daily, referring to a 19th century anti-Semitic book alleging that Jews used human blood to make Passover bread. Mohammed Raafat Othman, a professor of Islamic law at Al-Azhar, whose grand imam is also government-appointed, echoed Gomaa s views by stressing that killing a Jew or anyone else holding a valid visa would be considered a major criminal act in Islam. Al-Masry Al-Youm editorialist Magdi Mehanna argued that too much attention is being given to Higazi and that the country s religious authorities should close the file. Extremist fatwas are only a small part of the consequences of war in Lebanon, Mehanna said, voicing his opposition to Higazi s edict even though these Jews provide the support Israel needs to continue its aggression. The debate on the future of Egypt s relations with Israel was reignited after the punishing offensive launched in late June against the Gaza Strip in response to the abduction of an Israeli soldier by militant groups. But it reached a rare intensity when Israel responded to the killing of eight soldiers and the capture of two others by unleashing on Lebanon its largest land, air and sea military operation in a quarter century. Many Egyptian opposition movements, including the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, have since called for diplomatic relations to be severed. The Nasserist Karama party s Hamdeen Sabahi even said recently that the Arab nation should resume efforts to achieve the noble, simple but difficult goal of suppressing the state of Israel. The rhetorical escalation against Israel also reflects growing discontent at the moderate position adopted by the Egyptian regime. Everything has become an excuse to attack the regime of President Hosni Mubarak, which people see as closely linked to Israel and the United States, said Imad Gad, an analyst with the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.