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Spiritual leaders call for tolerance

None | ByAssociated Press, Madrid
Mar 23, 2006 11:16 AM IST

Imams and rabbis called on the world to respect their religions.

Imams and rabbis concluded a sometimes-heated international congress on Wednesday by calling on each other and the world to respect their religions.

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In a final statement after the four-day meeting in the southern Spanish city of Seville, delegates said that "contrary to widespread misinterpretation, there is no inherent conflict between Islam and Judaism."

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The congress was designed to let imams and rabbis discuss how to end antagonism between their faithful and work toward peace. It brought together more than 250 people from the Middle East, Europe, Asia, Africa and the United States. But it was overshadowed by tension over Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories. Imams from the Gaza Strip, such as Imad Al Falouji, insisted Tuesday that peace was impossible until Israel ended the occupation. He accused Israel of systematically "killing" his people. But Al Falouji sounded more conciliatory as the congress ended. He said in an interview from Seville that some rabbis from Israel had promised him to pressure the government to respect Muslim holy sites in Israel.

Other rabbis were less cooperative and more narrow-minded, he said. "They must look at the problem in the Holy Land with two eyes, not one eye," he said.

The final statement made an apparent reference to Muslim rage over the Prophet Muhammad cartoons published in European newspapers, calling on governments and international institutions to respect "symbols of all religions," as well as holy sites, particularly in the Holy Land.

The delegates also appeared to address Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's comment that Israel should be "wiped off the map." They said "we condemn any incitement against a faith or people, let alone any call for their elimination, and we urge authorities to do likewise."

Chaim Steinmetz, a rabbi from Montreal, said Wednesday that the meeting _ the second held by a Paris-based peace foundation called Hommes de Parole _ was a good start.

"Most of the imams have never seen this many rabbis. Most of the rabbis have never seen this many imams," Steinmetz said from Seville.

The last two days of the conference involved dozens of small problem-solving workshops whose themes were decided in a brainstorming session moderated by Harrison Owen, an American communications consultant.

Steinmetz said the setting looked familiar. "We had some failures. We had some successes. And we had an American man with a southern accent standing in the middle. It is a lot like the peace process."

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