Top Vatican official defends his Gaza "concentration camp" remarks

Other News Materials 8 January 2009 14:35 (UTC +04:00)

A diplomatic spat between the Vatican and Israel over the Gaza crisis seemed set to intensify Thursday when the Holy See's top justice official defended his remarks that Gaza "is a big concentration camp."

Cardinal Renato Martino, in an interview with Rome-daily La Repubblica, also dismissed Israeli government criticism that his comments were "based on Hamas propaganda".

"They (Israeli authorities) can say what they want," Martino told La Repubblica.

On December 27, Israel launched a military offensive against the Islamic militant Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, in response to rocket attacks from the enclave.

"I say look at the conditions in which people live... conditions that run contrary to human dignity. What is happening in these days causes horror," he added.

Martino who heads the Vatican's Council for Justice and Peace made his "concentration camp" remarks in an interview published Wednesday in the Italian online newspaper Il Sussidiario.net.

Martino who in the interview condemned the burning of Israeli flags at demonstrations in Italy over Gaza, said he was not "anti-Israel" and that Israel's foreign ministry had wrongly accused him of ignoring what it described as Hamas' "numerous crimes".

"I condemn them (Hamas' rocket attacks) ... Israel certainly has the right to defend itself and Hamas needs to take this into account.

"But what can one say when so many children are killed, when United Nations-run schools are bombed even if one posesses the technology which allows one to identify an ant on the ground," the cardinal told La Repubblica.

Pope Benedict XVI has repeatedly called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. Comments made by church officials before the crisis began, suggested the pontiff would visit Israel and the Palestinian Territories later this year, but the Vatican has not specified a date, reproted dpa.