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Israel bans Palestinians from hosting pope next to West Bank fence


7 May 2009

A Palestinian official says the Palestinian Authority has scrapped plans to host Pope Benedict XVI next week on a stage near the West Bank separation fence.

Palestinian say they had hoped that receiving the pope next to a towering cement wall and military watchtower inside the Aida refugee camp would highlight their suffering under Israeli occupation.

But Palestinian lawmaker Essa Qaraqie said Thursday that the location had been changed to a United Nations school after Israeli military officials forbade them to erect the stage near the barrier. The pope’s convoy will, however, still pass close to the barrier.

The pontiff’s visit to the region will include trips to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories. In Israel, he will hold mass in Nazareth and Jerusalem, as well as visiting the Western Wall, the Dome of the Rock and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. He will also hold mass in Bethlehem, believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ.

Jordanian Islamist leaders condemn pope`s Mideast visit as `provocative`

Jordanian Islamist leaders on Thursday condemned Pope Benedict’s visit to the Middle East, saying it was provocative because he has not apologized for offending comments implying Islam was violent and irrational.

They said the pope, who arrives in Jordan on Friday on the first leg of his Middle East tour, still owed them an apology for making the comments in in a 2006 speech in Regensburg, Germany.

Jordan’s Roman Catholic Church urged Islamists on Wednesday to welcome the pope despite their earlier criticism of his visit. A senior Jordanian official acknowledged some discontent but said the government would warmly welcome Benedict.

“The present Vatican pope is the one who issued severe insults to Islam and did not offer any apology to the Muslims,” Zaki Bani Rusheid, head of the Islamic Action Front, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s largest mainstream Islamist party, told Reuters.

“It’s the same pope who apologized to the Jews about the Holocaust and now comes to the region but says nothing about the Palestinian nakba (catastrophe),” he said.

Another Islamist figure, Jamil Abu Baker, added that “Ignoring Muslim sentiments will only block the healing of wounds his statements caused.”