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Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah blamed US President George Bush's aggressive foreign policy and "Israeli violence" for Hamas's rise in popularity during an annual Christmas message given Wednesday.
"Hamas is getting more popular thanks to Bush," said Sabbah in response to a reporter's question. Sabbah said that US and Israeli attempts to interfere in Palestinian affairs, radicalize the Palestinian street and boosts support for Hamas.
"Abu Mazen succeeds in keeping things under control and convincing Hamas to stop the violence. But then Israeli violence ruins everything."
Palestinian sources estimated that Sabbah's comments, which imply Hamas exploits Palestinian despair and is not popular in its own right, would offend Hamas.
Sabbah, the highest-ranking Catholic clergyman for issues affecting the local congregation of approximately 30,000, also denied that Muslim violence against Christians in the Holy Land was a real problem.
"I think the constant talk about this subject is an obsession," said Sabbah. "There is no persecution."
Sabbah said relations are complicated.
"There are cases in which Christians join Muslims to persecute other Christians."
Asked to explain the massive exodus of Christians of all denominations out of the Holy Land in past decades, Sabbah said, "lots of people are leaving, Jews are leaving, Muslims are leaving, Christians are leaving too. But we are such a small community it is more noticed."
Sabbah said Christians would continue to leave Bethlehem "as long as the city remains a prison".
Asked whether Catholic faith would be shaken by archeological proof that Jesus was born in Galilee's Nazareth, not Bethlehem, as Christian Gospel states, Sabbah said no.
"Our faith in Jesus is unshakable no matter where he was born."
In the books of Matthew and Luke it is stated clearly that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, said Father David Neuhaus, a theologian at the Catholic Church's Pontifical Biblical Institute in Jerusalem.
"This is in order to establish that Jesus was a continuation of the House of David, and, therefore, has the lineage needed to be Messiah according to Jewish faith.
"But in John and Mark it is not as clear. In fact it appears from these books that Jesus is from Nazareth, a place never mentioned in the Old Testament."
Neuhaus said this apparent contradiction expresses the new and old elements embodied in Jesus.