CAIRO, Egypt (AP) _ Saad Mourtada, Egypt's first ambassador to Israel, has died in the United States. He was 78.

Mourtada, who died on Tuesday, had been suffering from prostate cancer, the daily Al-Ahram newspaper said. He became ambassador to Israel in 1979 after his country and Israel signed a historic peace treaty the same year and served in the post until 1981.

Many of those who were nominated for the ambassadorial posting to Israel rejected it, but Mourtada ``was the first to accept this challenge and to overcome the psychological barrier,'' Salah Bassiouny, Mourtada's successor in Israel, told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Mourtada strongly believed in peace and ``considered this peace treaty as the beginning of peace in the Middle East,'' said Bassiouny.

Egypt was the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel, something which shocked and enraged many Egyptians and Arab states at the time.

Egypt recalled Bassiouny, the former ambassador to Moscow who took Mourtada's place in Israel, in November in protest of Israel's treatment of Palestinians during the almost yearlong intifadeh, or uprising. The post remains vacant.

Before Israel, Mourtada was Egypt's ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, Senegal and Morocco.

After retiring in 1981, he moved to the United States, where he lived in Boston. It was not immediately clear where he died.

Mourtada, who is survived by one son, requested in his will to be buried in the United States.

The Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty was signed in 1979, a year after the breakthrough Camp David summit chaired by President Carter, who brought Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin together for talks to hammer out a broad framework agreement to secure peace between the neighboring Middle East nations.