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Muslims blame Israel for church attack, 'intolerance'But outraged Christians say Islamic extremists driving them away

Posted: March 5, 20064:49 p.m. Eastern
By Aaron Klein

© 2006 WorldNetDaily.com

JERUSALEM – Muslim leaders this weekend led protest rallies against the Jewish state in which they claimed Israel "disrespects other religions' holy sites" and "fuels an atmosphere of intolerance" that led three members of an Israeli family with a history of problems to set off fireworks Friday at the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth.
Christian leaders here told WND the Muslim protests are "outrageous," pointing out Christians have fled previously Christian-dominated cities such as Nazareth and Bethlehem en masse due to persecution and holy site desecrations by Muslims.
"It's outrageous that the Muslims are protesting intolerance and blaming Israel for disrespecting Christian sites," said an aide to Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah, who asked that his name be withheld out of fear of retaliation by local Muslims. "It is the Muslims who are leading a campaign against us to the point that most of the Christian population from Bethlehem and Nazareth had to run away."
Sabbah spoke at a protest yesterday orchestrate mostly by Muslim leaders who blamed Israel for the acts of Haim Eliyahu Habibi, a Jewish Israeli who together with his Christian wife and daughter entered the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth Friday with the firecrackers concealed in a baby stroller.
The church was built on the site believed to be the place where an angel told the Virgin Mary she had been chosen to bear the son of God.
Habibi's daughter told reporters her father was motivated by "economic distress." Israeli police officials told WND Habibi has a history of "mental problems" and that they were "familiar" with his files. In 1999, Habibi reportedly visited PLO leader Yasser Arafat and requested "political asylum."
Arab Israeli leader Mohammad Barakeh called Habibi's attack "an attempt to drive a wedge among the Arab population."
Ahmad Tibi, an Arab Muslim Knesset member, said, "There are those who want to continue to separate between Muslims, Christians and Druze in order to make their mission of weakening the Arab minority easier. I am proud that the Muslims defended the Church of Annunciation and I am sure Christian Arabs would not hesitate to defend mosques."
Arab Israeli Knesser Member Taleb El-Sana, a Muslim, blamed Israel for the church attack.

"The act [by Habibi] is the result of Zionism's insane policy, which destroyed mosques, desecrated churches and shows no tolerance toward other people's holy sites. ... Islam equally sanctifies the places holy for Christians and Muslims."
But Acting Prime Minister Ehuld Olmert at a cabinet meeting accused the Muslim leaders of using Habibi's attack to "gain political ground."
"It is almost absurd when the Islamic leadership, which is known for being intolerant toward Christianity, leads a demonstration caused by a spaced-out couple and uses it as political leverage during the election period," Olmert said.
Indeed some Christians in Israel said they were "dumbfounded" by the Muslim protests.
"The Muslims are they problem, and here they are protesting against so-called religious intolerance by others," George Ghrabi, a former Bethelem resident now living in Jerusalem, told WND.
Ghrabi pointed out for years Bethlehem was largely Christian until the Palestinian Authority took control in 1995 and the Christian population drastically dropped from 90 percent, eventually dwindling to about twenty-five percent.
"The Christians fled Bethlehem and have been fleeing Nazareth," said Ghrabi.
Many Christians in Bethlehem and Nazareth say they face constant Muslim hostility.
A Christian community leader previously told WND, "You want to know what is at play here, just come throughout the year and see the intimidation from the Muslims. They have burned down our stores, built mosques in front of our churches, stole our real estate and took away our rights. Women have been raped and abducted. So don't tell me about Israel. It's the Muslims."
One Bethlehem religious novelty-store owner, speaking to WND in December, cited examples of Muslim gangs defacing Christian property, the PA replacing Christian leaders on public councils with Muslims and armed Palestinian factions stirring tensions.
"We are harassed but you wouldn't know the truth. No one says anything publicly about the Muslims," the store owner said.
The aide to Latin Patriarch Sabbah said the PA has been appropriating lands of the Greek Orthodox Church and building mosques on the formerly Christian land.
He said he's aware of several cases in which Christian women were raped and murdered, but the alleged criminals were not arrested.
"The Palestinian security forces know who did these crimes. They know where the criminals live. Still nothing to arrest them," said the aide.
The novelty-store owner told WND he was shot by Muslims in 2001. He said the assailants are still at large.
Cases involving other alleged anti-Christian violence include attacks against Bethlehem Christians in 2001 after a Palestinian Muslim leader called for a "jihad" against both Jews and Christians; riots that spilled over from Ramallah in 2002 in which Muslim mobs burned Christian businesses and attempted to destroy churches; and regular reports of shootings and threats.
Israeli security officials say over 100 cases of anti-Christian violence are reported to the Palestinian police every year. They estimate most incidents go unreported.
Some Christians told WND they were disturbed Muslim leaders this weekend blasted Israel for disrespecting holy sites while the Palestinians have a history of desecrating Christian and Jewish holy places.
This past summer, Palestinians desecrated synagogues left standing in the Gaza Strip following Israel's unilateral withdrawal from the area.
In one of the most infamous holy site desecrations in history, Palestinian terrorists in 2002 holed up in Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity and refused to release the religious staff inside. There were reports the gunmen, members of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, looted the facilities, desecrated the church and even used the Bible as toilet paper.
One document later captured by Israel indicated the terrorists also demanded monetary support from Bethlehem town officials.
In October 2000, after Israeli troops evacuated the city of Nablus as a peacemaking gesture, scores of Palestinians stormed into the Joseph's Tomb compound and destroyed the site believed to be the burial place of the biblical patriarch Joseph – the son of Jacob who was sold by his brothers into slavery and later became the viceroy of Egypt.
Within hours of the Israeli withdrawal, smoke was seen billowing from the tomb as a Muslim crowd burned Jewish prayer books and other holy objects. Palestinians used pickaxes, hammers and later bulldozers to tear apart the stone building. The dome of the tomb was painted green, and a mosque was subsequently erected in its place.

Aaron Klein is WorldNetDaily's Jerusalem bureau chief, whose past interview subjects have included Yasser Arafat, Ehud Barak, Mahmoud al-Zahar and leaders of the Taliban.
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