- Associated Press - Sunday, October 24, 2010

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Israel said Sunday that a meeting of Middle East bishops was hijacked by enemies of the Jewish state, after the gathering at the Vatican largely blamed Israel for conflict in the region.

In a communique at the end of their two-week meeting, the bishops demanded that Israel accept U.N. resolutions calling for an end to its occupation of Arab lands and told Israel it shouldn’t use the Bible to justify “injustices” against the Palestinians.

“We express our disappointment that this important synod has become a forum for political attacks on Israel in the best history of Arab propaganda,” Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said in a statement Sunday.

“The synod was hijacked by an anti-Israel majority,” he said.

The meeting was convened by Pope Benedict XVI to discuss the future of embattled Christians in the largely Muslim region. It formally ended with a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on Sunday during which the pontiff called for greater religious freedom and peace in the Middle East.

But the bishops attending the gathering issued their conclusions on Saturday.

They said they had “reflected” on the suffering and insecurity in which Israelis live and on the status of Jerusalem, a city holy to Christians, Jews and Muslims. While the bishops condemned terrorism and anti-Semitism, they laid much of the blame for the conflict squarely on Israel.

They listed the occupation of Palestinian lands, Israel’s separation barrier with the West Bank, its military checkpoints, political prisoners, demolition of homes and disturbance of Palestinians’ socio-economic lives as factors that have made life increasingly difficult for Palestinians.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said it was absurd that the Jewish state had been condemned since Israel is the only country in the region where Christians are actually thriving.

According to statistics he provided, some 151,700 Christians lived in Israel last year, compared with 132,000 in 1999 and 107,000 two decades ago.

Mr. Palmor also criticized the bishops’ statement that Israel shouldn’t use the Bible to justify “injustices” against the Palestinians.

“This has never been a policy of any government in Israel, so this position sounds particularly hollow,” he said. “Let he who has never sinned cast the first stone.”

In recent years, relations between Jews and the pope sometimes have been tense.

Many Jews criticized Benedict’s decision to move his predecessor Pius XII toward sainthood, saying the wartime pontiff didn’t do enough to protect Jews from the Holocaust. The Vatican has maintained that Pius used behind-the-scenes diplomacy in a bid to save Jewish lives.

Another sore point recently was Benedict’s decision to revoke the excommunication of a renegade bishop who had denied that millions of Jews died in the Holocaust. The Vatican said it wasn’t aware of the bishop’s views when the excommunication was lifted.

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