Pope with religious leaders, Tamimi (right)
Pope with religious leaders, Tamimi (right)Israel News Photo: (Flash 90)

A senior Palestinian Authority Muslim leader interrupted a meeting of religious leaders in Jerusalem on Monday night as Pope Benedict XVI was speaking. The leader, Sheikh Tayseer al-Tamimi, began harshly criticizing Israel, and ignored calls for calm.

Al-Tamimi, who heads the PA's Sharia (Muslim law) courts, accused Israel of “murdering women and children and destroying mosques” and “destroying Palestinian cities.”

He also laid claim to Jerusalem as “the Palestinian people's capital,” and called on those present to “defend the Palestinians against the expropriation of their lands.”

When Tamimi finished speaking, the pope immediately left the hall. According to IDF Army Radio, the pope shook Tamimi's hand before leaving.

The outburst occurred at an event meant to be an interreligious dialog between Catholic, Jewish, non-Catholic Christian and Muslim leaders. In attendance were leading figures in the Rabbinate, Latin Patriarch Fuad Twal, Tamimi, and the heads of the Israeli branches of several churches.

Following the incident, the Holy See press office released a statement criticizing Tamimi's outburst as “a direct negation” of the interreligious dialogue that had been planned, and expressing hope that the outburst would not harm interreligious dialogue in Israel. The pope was not aware of Tamimi's plan to interrupt the meeting, wrote Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi.

"The intervention of Sheikh Tayssir Attamimi [sic] was not scheduled by the organizers of the meeting," Lombardi wrote. "In a meeting dedicated to dialogue this intervention was a direct negation of what a dialogue should be. We hope that such an incident will not damage the mission of the Pope aiming at promoting peace and also interreligious dialogue, as he has clearly affirmed in many occasions during this pilgrimage. We hope also that interreligious dialogue in the Holy Land will not be compromised by this incident."

Tamimi was responsible for a similar incident in 2000, when he raged against Israel during an interreligious dialogue in the same hall, attended by previous Catholic leader Pope John Paul II.

In 1994, the Fatah-appointed sheikh, then-chairman of the PA's Islamic Law Council, stated, “The Jews are destined to be persecuted, humiliated, and tortured forever, and it is a Muslim duty to see to it that they reap their due. No petty arguments must be allowed to divide us. Where Hitler failed, we must succeed.”

Tamimi has also called on Muslims to pray for the destruction of the United States.

Click here for completely coverage of the Pope's trip to Israel.