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Pope Expresses Regret for Statements on Islam

The Vatican said Saturday Pope Benedict sincerely regrets that his words offended Muslim sensibilities. The Muslim world reacted angrily to a speech by the pope to academics in Germany in which he referred to holy war and to some teachings of the prophet Mohammed as evil and inhuman.

A long statement by the Vatican's new secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone said the pope's intention was to discuss the relationship between religion and violence, and clearly reject the use of violence for religious purposes.

Cardinal Bertone said the pope sincerely regretted if his words had offended Muslim sensibilities. He added that the pope's position on Islam was in line with Vatican teaching that the Church esteems Muslims, who adore the one God.

The pope's words on holy war in an address to academics earlier this week in Germany unleashed the anger of Muslims in different parts of the world, who demanded an apology from the pope.

The pope cited an obscure Medieval text in which a Byzantine emperor described some teachings of Islam's founder as evil and inhuman. The Vatican says the pope was only trying to emphasize the incompatibility between faith and violence, and officials have suggested a careful reading of pope's entire text.

It is still unclear whether the words by the Vatican's secretary of state would be sufficient to placate the anger of Muslims. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt reacted immediately saying the statement Saturday did not go far enough and it expected a personal apology.

German chancellor Angela Merkel has come to the pope's defense saying his message had been misunderstood. But Saturday, two churches in the West bank were hit by firebombs and anger in the Muslim world showed no signs of subsiding.

And in India's Kashmiri town of Srinagar, Saturday, hundreds of Muslim women also demonstrated against the pope. They chanted "down with the pope" and "long live Islam."

Despite this, Turkish government officials said Saturday they would not ask Benedict to cancel a planned visit in November, in what would be his first papal trip to a Muslim country.