Pope stops interfaith conference after Israel insult


JERUSALEM (JTA) — Pope Benedict XVI cut short an interfaith conference in Jerusalem after a Palestinian cleric accused Israel of killing women and children and destroying mosques.

Sheik Tayssir al-Tamimi, the head of the Palestinian sharia court, delivered a spontaneous six-minute speech in Arabic at Monday night’s meeting calling on the pope "in the name of the one God to condemn these crimes and press the Israeli government to halt its aggression against the Palestinian people."

"Israel destroyed our home, exiled our people, built settlements, ruined the Muslim holy sites, and slaughtered women, children and senior citizens in Gaza," Tamimi said as organizers tried to persuade him to stop speaking.

Upon being informed of the content of the speech the pope, whose own address was interrupted by the Muslim cleric, stopped the conference.

The heads of the Chief Rabbinate in Israel, several churches in Israel and Vatican officials were present at the meeting.

Following the incident, papal spokesman Father Federico Lombardi issued a statement that read, "The intervention of Sheik Tayssir al-Tamimi was not scheduled by the organizers of the meeting. In a meeting dedicated to dialogue, this intervention was a direct negation of what a dialogue should be. We hope that such an incident will not damage the mission of the Pope aiming at promoting peace and also interreligious dialogue, as he has clearly affirmed in many occasions during this pilgrimage. We hope also that interreligious dialogue in the Holy Land will not be compromised by this incident."

The director-general of the Chief Rabbinate, Oded Wiener, said that Jewish members would no longer take part in a long-standing, three-way interfaith dialogue until Tamimi was barred from attending, Ha’aretz reported.

Tamimi attempted a similar stunt during Pope John Paul II’s visit to Israel nine years ago, the Jerusalem Post reported.

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