Churches in the West Bank and Gaza were damaged in several shooting and fire bomb attacks over the weekend, in response to the words of Pope Benedict XVI criticizing the Muslim religion. Thousands of protesters flooded the streets of Gaza to protest.
On Saturday, a Greek Orthodox Church in the Zeitoun neighborhood in Gaza City and four other churches in Nablus were attacked by Palestinians wielding guns, fire bombs and lighter fluid. At least five fire bombs hit the Anglican Church and its door was later set ablaze. Smoke billowed from the church as firefighters put out the flames. The fire bombings left black scorch marks on the walls and windows. No injuries were reported from those incidents.
On Sunday two more West Bank churches were set on fire as the wave of Muslim anger over the Pope’s comments continued. A small church in the village of Tubas was hit with fire bombs and was partially burned. In Tulkarm a stone church built over 170 years ago was torched, completely destroying the inside. According to local officials, neither were Catholic churches.
These attacks over the weekend are in response to the words of the Pope in a speech delivered last week in Germany quoting 14th-century Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus who said: "Show me just what Mohammed 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."
With that, security has been beefed up around the Pope in response to the attacks and in anticipation of further threats made by various Muslim groups to assassinate him. These threats were delivered by several organizations, including the Mujahideen’s Army in Iraq.
Prominent Muslims from all over the world criticized the Pope’s words and demanded an apology for his statements. Many in the Muslim world, including elements in Lebanon, Iran and Egypt, also warned of an all out war between Christians and Muslims because of these statements.
On Sunday the Pope said he was “deeply sorry” about the angry reaction that was sparked by his speech about Islam and holy war. He said that the text did not reflect his personal opinion and that “these (words) were in fact a quotation from a medieval text which does not in any way express my personal thought.” The Pope was speaking to a group of pilgrims at his summer palace outside Rome.
The Pope also said, "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."