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Sunday, September 17, 2006


Pope sorry for reaction to his remarks By PIER PAOLO CITO, Associated Press Writer

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy - Pope Benedict XVI said Sunday that he was "deeply sorry" about the angry reaction to his recent remarks about Islam, which he said came from a text that didn't reflect his personal opinion.

"These (words) were in fact a quotation from a Medieval text which do not in any way express my personal thought," Benedict told pilgrims at his summer palace outside Rome.

The pope sparked the controversy when, in a speech Tuesday to university professors during a pilgrimage to his native Germany, he cited the words of a Byzantine emperor who characterized some of the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, Islam's founder, as "evil and inhuman."

"At this time I wish also to add that I am deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries to a few passages of my address at the University of Regensburg, which were considered offensive to the sensibility of Muslims," the pope said Sunday.

Benedict noted that the Vatican's secretary of state had issued a statement Saturday trying to explain the pope's speech.

"I hope that this serves to appease hearts and to clarify the true meaning of my address, which in its totality was and is an invitation to frank and sincere dialogue, with great mutual respect," Benedict said.

Security was high at the summer palace before Benedict spoke to the crowd. Police patted down many of the faithful, confiscating umbrellas with metal tips and bottles of liquids.

Sharpshooters kept watch from a balcony and other officers, dressed like tourists, monitored the crowd with video cameras.

Still, Benedict looked relaxed when he greeted pilgrims standing in pouring rain in the palace courtyard. He smiled and said he hoped it would be better weather on Wednesday for his general audience, when he planned to recount more of his pilgrimage to the faithful.

The Vatican statement Saturday afternoon said that the pope "sincerely regrets" that Muslims were offended, but stopped short of the apology demanded by many Muslim leaders in the Middle East and Asia.

Mahmoud Ashour, the former deputy of Cairo's Al-Azhar Mosque, the Sunni Arab world's most powerful institution, told Al-Arabiya TV immediately after the pope's speech that, "It is not enough. He should apologize because he insulted the beliefs of Islam. He must apologize in a frank way and say he made a mistake."

But the leader of Egypt's largest Islamic political group, the Muslim Brotherhood, told The Associated Press Sunday that "while anger over the Pope's remarks is necessary, it shouldn't last for long."

"While he is the head of the Catholic Church in the world, many Europeans are not following (the church) so what he said won't influence them. Our relations with Christians should remain good, civilized and cooperative," Mohammed Mahdi Akef said.

The Muslim Brotherhood is formally banned in Egypt.

In the West Bank, two churches were set afire as anger over the pope's comments grew throughout the Palestinian areas.

In the town of Tulkarem, a 170-year-old stone church built 170 years ago was torched before dawn and its interior was destroyed, local Christian officials said. In the village of Tubas, a small church was attacked with firebombs and partially burned, Christians said. Neither church is Catholic, the officials said.

Palestinian Muslims hurled firebombs and opened fire at five churches in the West Bank and Gaza Strip Saturday to protest the Pope's comments, sparking concerns of a rift between Palestinian Muslims and Christians.

Italy's interior minister said Sunday that the tensions over Benedict's remarks wouldn't result in any further heightening of security concerns.

"I don't believe that for Italy the concern will rise," Giuliano Amato told Italian state radio.

Amato noted that suspected terrorist cells under surveillance inside the country were considered to be focused on targets "outside of Italy."

The interior ministry includes state police and civilian intelligence services.

Some Muslims have accepted the pope's statement of regret. Senior Indian Muslim clerics said it will "help in building good relations between Muslims and Christians" and asked their supporters to call off planned protests.

Turkey's foreign minister said Sunday that the pope was still expected to visit in November in what would be his first trip to a Muslim nation.

"From our point of view, there is no change," Abdullah Gul told reporters before departing for a trip to the United States.

Morocco recalled its ambassador to the Holy See to protest the "offensive" remarks, and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono described the pope's reference as "unwise and inappropriate," the Kompas daily reported.

___

Associated Press correspondent Victor L. Simpson at the Vatican and Nadia Abou el-Magd in Cairo, Egypt contributed to this report.

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