CAIRO, Egypt—Gunmen firebombed five churches in the Palestinian territories Saturday over remarks by Pope Benedict XVI this week that outraged Muslims and prompted the Vatican to issue a mildly worded apology.
The pope "sincerely regrets that certain passages of his address could have sounded offensive to the sensitivities of the Muslim faithful," said Deputy Pope Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, insisting that the pontiff didn't mean to portray Islam as violent. Instead, the pope meant only to stress his "clear and radical rejection of religiously motivated violence," Bertone said.
Muslims around the world interpreted the pope's words as criticism that Islam endorses violence.
Pope Benedict XVI made the remarks earlier this week during a trip to his native Germany as he was citing a conversation between a Byzantine Christian emperor, Manuel Paleologos II, and a Persian Muslim scholar on the truths of Christianity and Islam.
"Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached," were the emperor's words that the pope read before a group of professors at Regensburg University in Germany, without commenting on them.
In the days since, fear has spread of a wave of violence like what followed a Danish newspaper's publication last year of cartoons that lampooned Islam's prophet Mohammed
Palestinian gunmen targeted five churches in Gaza and the West Bank with firebombs, causing charred doors and bullet holes in walls, but no one was injured.
A day earlier some 2,000 Palestinians demonstrated in Gaza against the pope's remarks.
Elsewhere in the Muslim world politicians and clerics in Lebanon, Egypt, Malaysia, Pakistan, Turkey and several other countries all reproached the pope.
The Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar institution in Cairo, the highest religious authority in the Sunni world, issued a statement criticizing the pope for repeating the emperor's quotes without further explanation.
Egypt's Parliament demanded an immediate apology. Speaker of Parliament Fathy Sorour said the remarks showed a "severe ignorance of Islam."
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit issued a statement in which he expressed "concern that the Pope's comments would spark clashes between cultures and weaken efforts to narrow the gap between East and West."
Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood discarded the Vatican's mild apology as "insufficient."
"This statement is not enough," said the Brotherhood's deputy leader Mohamed Habib. "The pope's comments insulted Muslims' feelings and revered beliefs to an extent that can only be mended by a personal apology."
Turkey's ruling party compared the pope to Hitler and Mussolini.
In Pakistan, scores of people demonstrated and parliament unanimously passed a resolution condemning the pope for making "derogatory" comments about Islam.
Morocco's official news agency announced that King Mohammed VI had recalled his ambassador to the Vatican for consultations.
Malaysia's Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmed Badawi commented that the Pope should not take the public outrage lightly.
"It is unfortunate that such an eminent figure like the pope has not shown leadership in promoting good relations between religions," Badawi said in a statement.
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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