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Religious Leaders Reaffirm Commitment to Ending Bloodshed in Holy Land - 2002-03-22


On Thursday, three Israelis, including a man and his pregnant wife, were killed in an attack by a Palestinian suicide bomber in the heart of Jerusalem. At the time the bomb went off, Jewish, Muslim and Christian religious leaders were meeting nearby to affirm their dedication to ending bloodshed in the Holy Land.

The roar of the bomb resounded through the meeting. A few minutes after the explosion, the leader of the group, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. George Carey, said the bombing only served to reinforce the urgency of what the religious leaders are trying to do. "We have to think of two echoes going on at the moment, the echo of an explosion out there and the echo of peace in this room," he said. "Now, what are we going to listen to? Are we going to allow the spiral of violence to continue - and it could continue for many, many years to come - or should we not listen to the strength of faith and say, enough is enough?"

The 18 religious leaders at the meeting, representing the three major monotheistic faiths, first came together earlier this year in Alexandria, Egypt, where they produced a document called the Alexandria declaration, an initiative aimed at finding ways to end the violence between Israelis and Palestinians.

But the Jerusalem meeting also showed that some divisions have occurred in the so-called Alexandria Group. One of its members, Sheikh Muhammad Tantawi of Cairo's Al-Azhar University, has recently been quoted as calling suicide bombers "martyrs" for a just cause.

The statement, by a man regarded as one of the leading experts of the dominant Sunni branch of Islam, greatly angered Rabbi Michael Melchior, deputy foreign minister of Israel and one of those responsible for the Alexandria declaration. Speaking at the meeting in Jerusalem, he said that suicide bombers should never be praised. "If there are people who are holy, it is the people who are killed and not the killers and not the murderers," he said. "I hope that the words of Sheikh Tantawi were not correctly quoted."

But Rabbi Melchior added an optimistic note. He said that the Alexandria declaration had gained more supporters, including Pope John Paul II and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. He also said it is up to Jews, Muslims and Christians to determine whether the Holy Land will remain a place where more innocent blood will be spilled, or whether it will fulfill the dream of becoming a region flowing with "milk and honey."

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