The attacks and threats represent the response of Islamic fundamentalists in the PA to statements made last Tuesday, at Regensburg University in Germany, by the head of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI. By reference to a reported discussion from the 14th century between a Christian Byzantine Emperor and a Persian Islamic scholar, the pontiff implied strong denigration of Islam founder, Mohammed.

The Pope referred to remarks by the emperor to the effect that everything Mohammad brought was evil, "such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." Using the terms "jihad" and "holy war," the 79-year-old Pope said violence was "incompatible with the nature of God."

Muslims in several PA-controlled cities in Judea and Samaria have taken to the streets in recent days in protest against the Pope's comments, with increasing instances of violence directed at Christian institutions of all denominations.

In Shechem (Nablus), grenades and four firebombs were thrown at two churches, causing significant damage. A formerly unknown group called Lions of Monotheism claimed it was behind the attacks and that they were carried out in response to the Pope's statements regarding Islam.

George Awad, priest of the Eastern Orthodox Church in the city, told the PA news agency Maan that the local Anglican and Greek Orthodox churches were targeted in attacks overnight on Friday and early Saturday morning. Awad emphasized to the news agency that he condemned both the attacks on the Shechem churches and the statements of the Pope. Saying that comments such as those of the Pope "sow seeds of conflict," Awad added, "The Pope does not represent all of the world's Christians."

The Shechem-based clergyman continued, "The Christians in the Palestinian territories stand shoulder-to-shoulder with their Muslim brothers against the Israeli occupation. Many Christians have been killed, wounded and jailed in our common struggle."

On Saturday, a group calling itself Swords of Islamic Justice claimed to have opened fire on a church in Gaza's A-Zeitoun neighborhood. The group also threatened to blow up all the Christian houses of worship in the Gaza Strip.

During the annual conference of the Islamic Movement, held in the Israeli Arab city of Umm El-Fahm on Friday, the head of the northern branch of the organization, Sheikh Raed Salah, said of Pope Benedict's statements, "I hope it was a slip of the tongue, because if it is not, his words are a direct call to the nations of Europe to stand behind President Bush and Israel in their war against Islam."

On Friday, the head of the Palestinian Authority, Ismail Haniyeh, also had words of warning for the Pope: "We call on the holy pope to reconsider his statement and to stop offending the Islamic religion that has a billion and a half followers." Another official of the Hamas terrorist organization, Ismail Radwan, told 2,000 protestors in Ramallah on Friday night, outside the PA legislature, "This [statement by the Pope] is a new crusade against the Arab Islamic world. It comes in different forms, in cartoons or lectures.... They hate our religion."

In light of the worldwide Muslim reaction and threats of violence over the Pope's condemnation of violence in the name of Islam, security around the Catholic Church leader has been tightened and thickened. In a statement issued on Saturday, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone said that the Pope "sincerely regrets that certain passages of his address could have sounded offensive to the sensitivities of the Muslim faithful...."