Pope says deeply sorry

for reactions to his Islam remarks

A Palestinian worker fixing the damage to the wall of a Greek Orthodox church hit by a firebomb in the West Bank city of Nablus on Saturday. (AP)Pope says deeply sorry for reactions to his Islam remarks
By Haaretz Service and Agencies

Pope Benedict said on Sunday he was "deeply sorry" for the anger caused by his remarks on Islam and said a quote he used from a medieval text about holy wars did not reflect his personal thoughts.

Two West Bank churches were set afire early Sunday as a wave of Muslim anger over comments by Pope Benedict XVI on Islam grew throughout the Palestinian areas and the Muslim world. The two arson cases followed Saturday attacks on five churches in the West Bank and Gaza.

Speaking to pilgrims at his Castelgandolfo summer residence, the Pope said he was "deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries to a few passages of my address at the University of Regensburg, which were considered offensive to the sensibility of Muslims."

"These in fact were a quotation from a medieval text, which do not in any way express my personal thought. I hope this serves to appease hearts and to clarify the true meaning of my address, which in its totality was and is an invitation to frank and sincere dialogue, with mutual respect," he said.

Wave of attacks on churches

In the West Bank town of Tul Karm Sunday, a stone church built 170 years ago was torched before dawn and its entire inside was destroyed, local Christian officials said. In the village of Tubas, a small church was attacked with firebombs and partially burned, Christians said. Neither church is Catholic, the officials said.

On Saturday, Muslims hurled firebombs and opened fire at five churches in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to protest the Pope's comments, sparking concerns of a rift between Palestinian Muslims and Christians.

Jerusalem's Latin Patriarch, Michel Sabbah, the top Roman Catholic cleric in the Holy Landplanned to visit the city of Nablus in an effort to repair Christian-Muslim relations later Sunday.

Christians are believed to number about 50,000 people in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, about 2 percent of the total Palestinian population. Relations are generally good and the Palestinian Authority has made considerable efforts to ensure their political representation, though tensions periodically flare up.

The Pope last week, in a talk rejecting any religious motivation for violence, cited the words of a Byzantine emperor who characterized some of the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad as "evil and inhuman," particularly "his command to spread by the sword the faith."

The pontiff did not endorse that description, but he did not question it, and his words set off a firestorm of protests across the Muslim world.

Army Radio reported Sunday that security had been stepped up for the Pontiff, for fear of attempts by extremists to harm him.

In Tul Karm, church official Daoud Firoba said Palestinian security had
guarded the Greek Orthodox church until midnight, but then left. The entire inside of the sanctuary was burned, including furniture and an ornate wooden door, Firoba said. Books that are 500 years old survived, he said.

"This hurts my heart, this is against my God and my religion," Firoba said. "But I think that those who burned it don't understand that we are
Palestinians and we are not related."

The church is used by three Christian families left in Tulkarem, Firoba said.

In the small village of Tubas, Christian resident Michel Sayer said that he smelled smoke at three in the morning. "I came and saw the church was on fire and immediately we put it out," Sayer said. "We found two firebombs outside that were not thrown in and three inside that had been thrown." About 100 Christians live in Tubas, Sayer said.

Five churches attacked on Saturday
The Saturday attacks on four of the 10 churches in the West Bank town of Nablus, and on the Greek Orthodox Church in Gaza City unsettled a relatively peaceful coexistence in the city.

The assaults began with fire bombings of Nablus' Anglican and Greek Orthodox churches, which left trails of black scorch marks in their wake. At least five firebombs were hurled at the Anglican church, whose door was later set ablaze in a separate attack. Smoke billowed from the church as firefighters put out the flames

In a phone call to The Associated Press, a group calling itself the "Lions of Monotheism" claimed responsibility, saying the attacks were meant to protest the pope's remarks about Islam.

Hours later, four masked gunmen doused the main doors of Nablus' Roman and Greek Catholic churches with lighter fluid, then set them ablaze. They also opened fire on the buildings, pocking their outer walls with bullet holes.

In Gaza City, militants opened fire from a car at a Greek Orthodox church, hitting the facade. A policeman at the scene said he saw a car escape with armed men inside. Explosive devices were set off at the same Gaza church on Friday, causing minor damage.

There were no claims of responsibility for the last three attacks. Said Siyam, the interior minister from Hamas, ordered extra protection for churches across the West Bank and Gaza.

"The atmosphere is charged already, and the wise should not accept such acts," said Father Yousef Saada, a Greek Catholic priest in Nablus.

Ayman Daraghmeh, a Hamas legislator, denounced the attacks, and urged Palestinian police to do more to protect Christian sites.

Pope 'sorry' Muslims offended by his speech on Mohammed
The Vatican said on Saturday Pope Benedict XVI was sorry Muslims had been offended by a speech whose meaning had been misconstrued, as anger and protest grew throughout the Muslim world.

The new Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, said that the pope's position on Islam is unmistakably in line with Vatican teaching that the Church "esteems Muslims, who adore the only God."

"The Holy Father is very sorry that some passages of his speech may have sounded offensive to the sensibilities of Muslim believers," Bertone said in a statement.

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood said the Vatican statement saying the Pope was sorry did not go far enough.

"We want a personal apology [from the Pope]. We feel that he has committed a grave error against us and that this mistake will only be removed through a personal apology," Muslim Brotherhood Deputy Leader Mohammed Habib told Reuters.

"Has he presented a personal apology for statements by which he clearly is convinced? No," he said.

Growing chorus of criticism in Muslim world against Pope
Iran condemned Pope Benedict XVI on Saturday for making what it called "a big mistake" in his comments on Islam and demanded an apology, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

"The pope's expression contradicted his own leadership of a divine religion. Promotion of incorrect beliefs (about Islam) is considered a big mistake," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini was quoted as saying.

Hosseini said the pope should "revise and correct" his remarks in order to prevent Muslims' indignation.

In the first reaction from a top Christian leader, the head of Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church said in remarks published Saturday that Pope Benedict XVI's comments on Islam were "against the teachings of Christ."