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(photo credit: AP)
Citing the words of the Prophet Muhammad, Muslim religious leaders in the Gaza Strip on Sunday warned Pope Benedict XVI that he must "accept" Islam if he wanted to live in peace.
The warning, the first of its kind, came as many Christians in the West Bank expressed anger over a spate of attacks on churches in protest against remarks made by the pope about the Muslims and the Prophet Muhammad.
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Two more churches in the West Bank were targeted on Sunday in protest against the pope's remarks, bringing to seven the number of churches that have been attacked over the past three days.
In Tulkarm, arsonists set fire to the only Orthodox church in the area, causing heavy damage to the 150-year-old structure. Local residents said the attack occurred shortly after 4 a.m, when a number of assailants forced their way into the church and tossed several fire bombs into the building.
Some Christian families said they were living in fear because of the attacks and called on the Palestinian Authority to do its utmost to protect churches and Christians.
At a press conference in Gaza City, a number of Muslim clerics said the pope's statements were "the result of his hatred for Islam and not the result of ignorance."
One of them, Dr. Imad Hamto, called on the pope to "repent and ask for forgiveness." He added: "We want to use the words of the Prophet Muhammad and tell the pope: 'Aslim Taslam'" Aslim Taslam is a phrase that was taken from the letters sent by the Prophet Muhammad to the chiefs of tribes in his times in which he reportedly urged them to convert to Islam to spare their lives.
Some Muslim scholars, however, have endorsed a more moderate interpretation of the term, arguing that its real meaning was that those who surrendered to the will of God would find peace.
Hamto and his colleagues accused Christians of "resorting to the power of the sword in Afghanistan, Lebanon, Iraq and Palestine."
They also called on the pope to direct his words to the Jews who, they claimed, were "spreading corruption and destruction."