"I reiterated our desire to strengthen dialogue and cooperation between our two countries, particularly in the economic field," he told reporters on Thursday after meeting Mubarak.

He also extended a message from French President Jacques Chirac, who had been scheduled to visit Egypt before being briefly hospitalised earlier this month.

Douste-Blazy and Mubarak had also been expected to discuss the situation in Lebanon and Syria's suspected involvement in the February assassination of Lebanese former prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri.

Mediation attempts

Egypt has been involved in mediation attempts between Damascus and Western powers who have stepped up pressure on the Syrian regime.

Douste-Blazy met with the head
of Al-Azhar, Tantawi

The state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper said Mubarak called Chirac on Tuesday to urge him to "spare the Syrian regime, arguing that the collapse of yet another Arab regime would only help spread chaos and terrorism in the region."

Just before meeting the top French diplomat, Mubarak held talks with UN Middle East envoy Terje Roed-Larsen, who confirmed that a report on the al-Hariri assassination would be submitted to the Security Council at the end of October.

Douste-Blazy also met his Egyptian counterpart Ahmed Abul Gheit and Sheikh Mohammed Sayed Tantawi, the head of the Al-Azhar mosque, the most prestigious seat of Sunni Muslim learning.

Terrorism

After the meetings, France's leading Muslim official who accompanied Douste-Blazy in Egypt, voiced his concern over what he called terrorist threat in France.

"I am observing with great concern the events that reveal the existence of a terrorist project in France," said Dalil Boubakeur, who chairs France's Muslim Council.

A cell of alleged rebels linked to an Algerian Islamist group was dismantled earlier this week in France. Its alleged leader, Safe Bourada, spent six-months of last year in Cairo.

When asked about Islamist networks originating in Egypt, Boubakeur said: "Everything is possible... but it is clear that the Egyptian religious authorities, including the Sheikh of Al-Azhar, do not tolerate such a form of Islam."