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Saturday, September 16, 2006

The last throes of Christianity in the Middle East?

'Palestinians' rioted and set fire to a number of churches in Judea, Samaria and Gaza today, in protest over Pope Benedict's speech in Germany on Wednesday. A 'previously unknown group' (the terrorists got a new set of uniforms) called Swords of Islamic Right, threatened today to blow up all churches and Christian institutions in the Gaza Strip to protest Pope Benedict's remarks.

The group also claimed responsibility for a shooting attack on a church in the Zaituon neighborhood in Gaza City and for two attacks against churches in Nablus (Shechem).

I refer to this as possibly the last throes of Christianity in the Middle East, because the Christian population in our region has declined dramatically since the 'Palestinian Authority' was established in 1994. Christians living in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip make up less than 10% of the population. Most of them are located in Bethlehem and its surrounding villages and towns. According to the Jerusalem Post fewer than 2,000 Christians live in the Gaza Strip, which is a stronghold for radical Islamic groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad. There were more Jews than that in the Gaza Strip until last summer. Many Christians emigrated to the West to escape the Islamism that has accompanied the 'Palestinian Authority,' and I would not be surprised to see more leave if this continues. I cannot blame them. Why should they stay here and suffer?

Instead of trying to calm the storm, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and other PA leaders condemned the Pope's statements and called on him to apologize to the Muslim world.

The riots are occurring now and not earlier in the week, because preachers in several mosques used Friday prayers to launch a scathing attack on the Pope and to call on all Arab and Islamic countries to boycott him until he apologizes.

As a result of the inciteful sermons, on Friday night, thousands of 'Palestinians' took to the streets of Gaza City, chanting slogans against the Pope and accusing him of leading a new Crusade against the Muslim world.

Meanwhile, the head of Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church became the first top Christian leader to join the Muslim world in denouncing comments made by Pope Benedict XVI about Islam and jihad, as religious and political leaders warned of impending sectarian violence despite the Vatican's insistence that the Roman Catholic leader's words were misinterpreted and he didn't intend to be offensive.

Coptic Pope Shenouda III said in published remarks today that he didn't hear Benedict's exact words but that "any remarks which offend Islam and Muslims are against the teachings of Christ." I guess Shenouda III realizes that he is a dhimmi in Egypt.

The Jerusalem Post has more:
The Vatican on Saturday said the pope "sincerely regrets" that Muslims have been offended by some of his comments. But a statement by Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, stopped short of any apology for what the pope said.

A senior Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood member said the Vatican's comments were not enough to quell the anger over his words.

"What was issued by the Vatican was considered as an attempt to give an excuse for what the pope has been quoted saying, and what we demand is a sincere acknowledgment that there was a mistake, not allegations that we misunderstood the pope," said Brotherhood member Mohammed Bishr.

"We need the pope to admit the big mistake he has committed and then agree on apologizing, because we will not accept others to apologize on his behalf," he said.

Other Muslim leaders said outreach efforts by papal emissaries were not enough and they also demanded the pope personally apologize. Morocco recalled its ambassador to the Holy See, the Moroccan Foreign Ministry announced Saturday, and Turkey's ruling party likened the pope to Hitler and Mussolini and accused him of reviving the mentality of the Crusades. [Recall that Turkey is allegedly a secular state, and it is one that many Israelis visit. CiJ]

The grand sheik of Al-Azhar Mosque, the Sunni Arab world's most powerful institution, on Saturday condemned the pope's remarks as "reflecting ignorance."

Mohammed Sayed Tantawi made the comment in a brief interview with the pro-government Akhbar al-Youm newspaper, rather than issuing an official statement.
These riots are deja vu all over again.


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