.- A previously unknown Islamic group, called The Army of Guidance, said Tuesday it would strike “every place relevant to Christians” in the Gaza Strip in retaliation for recent remarks by the Pope deemed offensive by many Muslims, reported The Associated Press.
Palestinian Interior Ministry spokesman Khaled Abu Hilal said security forces in Gaza had been ordered to protect Christian sites, but he did not consider the group’s statement as a serious threat.
"I think this is empty talk," he was quoted as saying.
St. Perfidious, a 1,400-year-old Greek Orthodox church in Gaza, was attacked by unknown assailants Friday and suffered interior damage. Several other churches were attacked with firebombs and small arms.
The population of Gaza includes 1.4 million mostly conservative Muslims and a few thousand Christians.
On Monday Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called for protests against the United States. He argued that while the Pope may have been deceived into making his remarks, the words give the West an “excuse for suppressing Muslims” by depicting them as terrorists, reported the AP.
“Those who benefit from the Pope's comments and drive their own arrogant policies should be targeted with attacks and protests,” he said, referring to the United States.
“The Pope's words have caused a deep wound in the hearts of Muslims that won't heal for a long time, and then only after a clear apology to Muslims,” Egypt's religious affairs minister, Mahmoud Hamdi Zaqzouq, wrote in a column in the government daily Al-Ahram on Monday.
Extremists have said the Pope's comments proved that the West was in a war against Islam. In Iraq, Al-Qaida warned that its war against Christianity and the West will continue until Islam takes over the world.
But some Muslim moderates in the Middle East are reportedly trying to put a damper on the reaction, fearing it could spiral into attacks on Christians in the region.
On Sunday, Benedict said he was “deeply sorry” over any hurt caused by his comments made in his speech last week at the University of Regensburg, a sentiment he repeated today.