Worldwide condemnation of Israel's raid on Gaza took a new turn on Thursday as prominent Muslims in the U.K. and the Vatican condemned the violence on Gaza, warning that Israel's war could generate violent Islamist extremism.
Pope Benedict, the U.K.'s top security service MI5 and a group of leading Muslim advisors in the U.K. joined a growing chorus of those who have spoken out against Israel's war on Gaza and warned of its potentially dire consequences. A Vatican cardinal likened Gaza to a concentration camp.
A clearer message needed
Fourteed leading Muslim advisors who advise the U.K. government on security issues wrote to Prime Minister Gordon Brown warning that Israel's attack on Gaza could fuel violent Islamist extremism.
They said that anger within Britain's Muslim communities had reached
"acute levels of intensity" and called for Britain to put more pressure on the U.S. to change its approach to the crisis.
"The Israeli government's use of disproportionate force to combat threats to its security has revived extremist groups and empowered their message of violence and perennial conflict," the letter said.
"For Muslims in the U.K. and abroad, we run the risk of potentially creating a loss of faith in the process."
One signatory, Maajid Nawaz, co-founder of counter-extremism think-tank the Quilliam Foundation, said that U.K. ministers need to deliver a clear message that could not be twisted by extremists.
He added that moderate groups working with Muslims in communities need to be able to explain the government's stance in order to remove the perception it was not doing enough or did not care about Palestinian deaths.
"Extremists will use this situation and will utilize this opportunity to spread (their) message," Nawaz told Reuters. "It does undermine our work, that's just a fact. It's happening as we speak and it's putting our work back many years."
The threat of extremism
Jonathan Evans, head of the MI5 national intelligence agency, also warned that Israel's attack on Gaza would be used by extremists to radicalize British Muslims.
The Community Security Trust, a body which advises Jewish communities on security matters, said it was at its second highest state of alert and that there had been a significant number of anti-Semitic incidents since Israel launched its Gaza offensive on Dec. 27.
These included an arson attack on a synagogue, one violent physical assault, and numerous threatening messages and graffiti in Jewish neighborhoods.
"Generally Islamism will grow in popularity unless we successfully manage to fill that vacuum with genuine liberal democratic voices," Nawaz said.
Condemnation from the Vatican came in two stages as Pope Benedict on Thursday condemned the use of violence by Israel and Hamas Islamists in Gaza a day after one of his senior aides criticized Israel's actions, describing Gaza as a "a big concentration camp."
"Once again I would repeat that military options are no solution and that violence, wherever it comes from and whatever form it takes, must be firmly condemned," Pope Benedict said in a speech to diplomats from some 170 countries accredited to the Vatican.
The Pope, who is due to visit the Holy Land sites in Jordan, Israel and the Israeli-occupied West Bank in May, offered lighter condemnation of Israel than his point man for justice and peace, who delivered the Vatican's toughest criticism of Israel since the latest Middle East crisis.
"Defenseless populations are always the ones who pay. Look at the conditions in Gaza: more and more, it resembles a big concentration camp", Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Vatican's Council for Justice and Peace said in an interview with an Italian online newspaper.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center denounced Martino, comparing him to a Holocaust denier.
"These remarks are untrue, distort the memory of the Holocaust and are only used against Israel by terrorist organizations and Holocaust deniers," said Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the center.
"The cardinal should know that however difficult conditions may be in Gaza, the one thing it surely is not is a concentration camp where Jews were brought to die either by slave labor, starvation, or in most cases burned in the crematorium," he said.
In a follow-up interview in Italy's La Repubblica newspaper on Thursday, Martino defended his comments, saying the people of Gaza "are surrounded by a wall that is difficult to breach, in conditions that go against human dignity" and described events in Gaza as "horrific."
Martino condemned the rockets of Hamas however stressed that Israel's violence is much worse.
"Certainly, the rockets of Hamas are not confetti. I condemn them. But what can one say when so many children are killed, when U.N. schools are bombed even though (Israel) has technology that allows weapons to pinpoint even an ant on the ground?" Martino said in La Repubblica.
More than 700 Palestinians were killed since Israel started bombarding the Gaza enclave on Dec. 27 with the aim of halting Hamas rocket attacks. 11 Israeli soldiers died and three Israeli civilians were killed in rocket attacks from Gaza since the offensive began.