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Inauguration pastor under fire for Syria praise

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Bloggers uncovered praise for Syria by the evangelical pastor who is slated to deliver the invocation at President-elect Barack Obama’s inauguration.

"Syria’s a place that has Muslims and Christians living together for 1,400 years," Rick Warren said during a 2006 visit in a tape uncovered by the conservative Web site World Net Daily. "So it’s a lot more peaceful, honestly, than a lot of other places because Christians were here first. It’s a moderate country, and the official government rule and position is to not allow any extremism of any kind."

World Net Daily quoted him elsewhere as saying the freedom extends to Jews.

Liberal blogs such as Americablog and Talking Points Memo seized upon the remark. Obama has come under fire from liberal Democrats for tapping Warren, a strident opponent of abortion and gay partner rights, for the invocation. Some conservatives see Warren as suspect for his outreach to liberals on issues such as poverty, world hunger and the environment.

The consensus in the West is that Syria is hardly "moderate," and remains a profoundly repressive country that uses violence and assassination to stem political opposition and to intimidate neighboring Lebanon into accepting Syrian hegemony. Syrian leaders have been implicated in the murders of a number of Lebanese leaders.

However, since the late 1980s, Syria has removed many restrictions on freedom of religious practice and restored property rights to its Jewish citizens. It also effectively ended the attacks on Jews by Palestinian militants that had proliferated in the 1970s and 1980s. The current regime has good relations with expatriate Syrian Jewish communities.

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