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Vatican remark upsets Israelis

Pope Benedict XVI acknowledges the crowd after delivering mass at Nationals Park in Washington on April 17, 2008. Approximately 50,000 people are expected in attendance for the Pope's mass. (UPI Photo/Kevin Dietsch)
Pope Benedict XVI acknowledges the crowd after delivering mass at Nationals Park in Washington on April 17, 2008. Approximately 50,000 people are expected in attendance for the Pope's mass. (UPI Photo/Kevin Dietsch) | License Photo

ROME, Jan. 8 (UPI) -- A Vatican remark likening Gaza to a "big concentration camp" has infuriated Israelis, possibly jeopardizing Pope Benedict XVI's Israel visit, officials said.

The offending statement came from Cardinal Renato Martino, head of the Vatican Council for Justice and Peace, echoing a call by the pope for an end to the bloodshed in the Gaza Strip, the Times of London reported.

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Martino, commenting on the Italian Web site IlSussidiario.net, urged Israel and Hamas to be "more willing" to hold peace talks and accused both sides of only thinking of their own interests while civilians paid the price.

Expressing concern over the humanitarian situation, Marino said: "Let's look at the conditions in Gaza: these increasingly resemble a big concentration camp. Defenseless populations are always the ones who pay."

The Israeli Foreign Ministry called the remarks "Hamas propaganda" and accused the cardinal of ignoring "numerous crimes" by Hamas.

No date has been set for Pope Benedict's visit to the Holy Land but Vatican officials have indicated a May date was likely.

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