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UK condemns mufti's 'inflammatory' remarks

Jan. 23, 2012 6:32 P.M. (Updated: Jan. 25, 2012 4:12 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- UK Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt condemned on Monday "inflammatory words" used by the Palestinian Authority's Mufti of Jerusalem at a recent event in Ramallah.

Preaching on Jan. 9 at a rally marking the 47th anniversary of the founding of Fatah, Mohammed Hussein read out a Hadith saying the "hour of judgment will not come until you fight the Jews." Hussein and the PA said the religious quotation was a prophesy, not a call to arms.

"To refer to the Jewish people in such a way and to talk of killing Jews is anti-semitism, pure and simple," Burt, Minister for the Middle East, said in a statement.

"The UK is against any comments that could stir up hatred and prejudice in a region that needs a culture of peace and mutual respect. Jerusalem is a city sacred to three religions and all religious leaders should be working for dignity and justice for people of all faiths."

US group Americans for Peace Now also released a statement on Monday condemning "belligerent anti-Jewish comments."

"We are appalled by these comments, coming from the most senior Muslim cleric on the Palestinian Authority's payroll," said Debra DeLee, APN's president, in a statement.

"What we find particularly disturbing is that these vile comments were broadcast on the Palestinian Authority's official television channel," amplifying their "inciting" effect, she said.

"People in positions of religious authority, on all sides, bear a heavy responsibility of avoiding incendiary rhetoric. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a dispute between two national movements with conflicting claims to the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. Clerics on both sides must prevent this conflict from being perceived as a religious conflict and from becoming one."

Video of the rally, circulated by an Israeli NGO, showed a man introducing the mufti by saying: "Our war with the descendants of the apes and pigs is a war of religion and faith. Long live Fatah!"

The Quran retells the Exodus story of some Jews rebelling against Moses after their deliverance from bondage, and says God punished them by turning them into pigs and apes.

Not a call to action

Hussein has described the Hadith as an end-of-times prophesy, not a political precept.

"There is nothing in my speech that calls for killing," he told Reuters TV. "I was speaking about my people, its steadfastness and its existence in this land until the hour (of resurrection)".

PA religious affairs minister Mahmoud al-Habash said: "Our political position remains unchanged. We believe in peace. He (Hussein) was simply quoting a Hadith that talks about destiny, about what could happen in the future."

The condemnation from APN came a day after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked Israel's attorney-general to open a criminal investigation. The Justice Ministry had no immediate comment.

APN is the American arm of Israel's Peace Now movement, a leftist Zionist group.

Its website describes incitement against Israel and Jews as a "serious problem that must not be ignored or dismissed, particularly in light of the Jewish people's painful history."

It also says the Palestinian Authority deserves credit for its "extensive and ongoing efforts" to prevent incitement, and says anti-Arab and anti-Muslim incitement must also be rejected.

Israeli police last year detained two West Bank settler rabbis on suspicion they had encouraged the killing of Arabs. A Justice Ministry spokesman said a decision on prosecuting them was still pending.

Reuters contributed to this report.
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