Egyptian protester - AFP - 21122011
An Egyptian protester holding a widely-published picture of a woman who was stripped and beaten by riot police during clashes in Cairo last week. Photo by AFP
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Egypt's Salafist party announced for the first time on Tuesday that it will honor all of the country's existing agreements, including its peace treaty with Israel.

The Salafis, a radical Islamist sect whose Al-Nour party won 25 to 30 percent of the vote in the first two rounds of Egypt's parliamentary elections, also said they would not object to having contact with Israel.

Yousri Hammad, a spokesman for Al-Nour, told the Kuwaiti paper Al Rai Al Aam on Tuesday that his party sees no barrier to holding contacts with Israel as long the Egyptian Foreign Ministry approves and the contacts are not secret.

He said Al-Nour doesn't agree with the position of the Muslim Brotherhood, which opposes all contact with Israeli government representatives.

The Muslim Brotherhood, while also Islamist, is generally considered more moderate than the Salafis, and Hammad's unprecedented statement thus appears to be an effort to paint Al-Nour as more pragmatic than it has been perceived. That could help it further increase its strength in the third round of parliamentary elections, which are due to take place early next month.

Hammad's remarks come on the heels of comments made to Haaretz earlier this week by a senior Israeli official, who said that Israel's new ambassador to Egypt, Yaakov Amitai, would try to establish contact with the country's Islamist parties, including both the Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Nour.

The official explained that it is the ambassador's job to try to forge ties with anyone in a position of power, which means trying to talk with "anyone who wants to and agrees to talk to him, even if those contacts are not made public."

"We must conduct a dialogue with Islamic parties in friendly Arab states, and if the Salafist movement agrees, with it as well," the official said. "We should make every effort to explain that we are not the enemies of the Egyptian people or enemies of the Palestinians. The Palestinians cannot continue to hold the Arab world by the tail."

Clashes continue

Meanwhile, in Cairo, clashes between demonstrators and the security forces resumed before dawn on Tuesday at several places around the city. Police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the protesters, and several demonstrators were reportedly wounded.

This was the fifth straight day of clashes. On Monday, at least three people were killed, raising the death toll since the violence began on Friday to 13.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday denounced the use of what he termed excessive force against the demonstrators, saying it deepened schisms within the Egyptian people and cast a heavy shadow over the country's first free elections in decades. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also voiced deep concern over the violence.