Friday, January 09, 2009

Vatican compares Gaza to Nazi camp

Independent | The pope's minister for peace and justice was accused yesterday of speaking like a Holocaust denier after comparing Gaza to a "big concentration camp".

Cardinal Renato Martino, a veteran Vatican diplomat with years of experience as the Pope's delegate to the United Nations, told an interviewer for L'Avvenire, the daily paper of the Italian bishops, that "nobody" in the Israel-Hamas dispute "sees the interests of the other, but only their own". He continued: "But the consequences of egoism are hatred for the other, poverty and injustice. The ones who pay are always the defenceless populations. Look at the conditions in Gaza: more and more it resembles a big concentration camp."

He added that "both sides" were to blame for the dispute and must be separated like feuding brothers. "The world cannot just look on, doing nothing," said Cardinal Martino. His comments were later echoed by Pope Benedict XVI, who said "the military option is not a solution and violence from whichever side must be firmly condemned".

But Israel and its supporters reacted angrily to the cardinal's implied comparison of Gaza to the concentration camps of Nazi Germany. "We are astounded to hear from a spiritual dignitary words that are so far removed from truth and dignity," said Yigal Palmor, a Foreign Ministry spokesman.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, went further, saying such comments "are only used against Israel by terrorist organisations and Holocaust deniers".

The row cast doubt on the Pope's tentative plan to visit the Holy Land in May.