VATICAN CITY (CNS): Syrian President Bashar Assad’s tirade against Israel and Jews during Pope John Paul’s visit to Damascus has left a lingering diplomatic and interreligious controversy at the Vatican.
Israeli officials quietly pressed Vatican offices for an explanation, saying they could not understand why neither the Pope nor other Vatican officials had responded publicly to President Assad’s comments.
Some Jewish groups have criticised what they termed the Pope’s “silence”.
President Assad’s speech came during a welcoming ceremony at Damascus airport on May 5.
Without specifically pronouncing the words “Israel” or “Jews”, the Syrian President left no doubt about his target.
He said Palestinians were being oppressed today by a people who believed God had created them “above all other peoples”.
When President Assad finished speaking, the Pope applauded.
On May 13, at a Sunday blessing, the Pope appealed for harmony in the Middle East and said “the language and culture of peace must prevail over the incitement to hatred and exclusion”.
If that was meant as a response to President Assad, it did not go far enough, said one Israeli official.
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