Muslim cleric slams Israel to pope, raising anger

Tue May 12, 2009 5:00am EDT
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By Alastair Macdonald

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - A senior Palestinian Muslim cleric fiercely denounced Israeli policy in Jerusalem in the presence of Pope Benedict on Monday and appealed to the pope to help end what he called the "crimes" of the Jewish state.

The speech, at the end of a meeting between the pope and Christian, Muslim and Jewish clergy engaged in contacts among the three main religions in Jerusalem, angered both the Vatican and Israel's chief rabbinate, which said it would boycott the dialogue forum until the Palestinians barred the cleric.

Referring to Palestinian Muslims and Christians, Sheikh Taysir al-Tamimi said: "We struggle together and suffer together from the oppression of the Israeli occupation.

"We look forward together to liberation and independence and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state."

The incident further marred the start of the German-born pope's five-day tour of Israel and the Palestinian territories, after criticism by some Jews that a speech at a Holocaust memorial did not go far enough to mend Catholic-Jewish rifts.

Pope Benedict, in his own speech to the gathering of priests, rabbis and sheikhs, praised their efforts to seek common values and mutual respect to overcome differences in religious practices that "may at times appear as barriers."

The final speaker from the platform at an auditorium in a Roman Catholic institution was Tamimi, the chief judge of the Muslim religious courts in the Palestinian territories.

In uncompromising language, he welcomed the pope to "Jerusalem, the eternal capital of Palestine" -- a direct riposte to Israeli claims to the same city -- and enumerated many of the complaints Palestinians have against Israel.   Continued...