One of Indonesia's famous imams urged Muslims from the world's fourth most populous Muslim country Sunday to take up jihad in Gaza as Pope Benedict urged people around the world to pray to "end the tragedy" that has killed hundreds of "innocent victims."
Abu Bakar Bashir, preached to about 500 people at a mosque in Bekasi, east of Jakarta, urging them to join a jihad in the Gaza Strip.
"The war in Palestine isn't a war between one country and another, it is a religious war. The Jews try to destroy Islam, and so Muslims must join, to fight in their own capacity," he was quoted as saying.
"Their suffering is our suffering, their blood is our blood, their trouble is our trouble. Thus, we must defend and protect them."
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono urged Israel to put an end to the three weeks of violence, and has sent humanitarian aid for the victims in Palestine.
The government has tried to discourage calls from more Islamist groups to send civilian fighters, and has offered to dispatch a peacekeeping mission to the Gaza Strip.
No accesst to Gaza
About 85 percent of the population of 226 million people are Muslim, and most are moderate. The attacks on Gaza have prompted several big rallies protesting against Israel.
"We have sent material aid and, of course, our prayers. Jihad is not yet possible because the access remains closed. Nonetheless, we are preparing ourselves as it is our obligation," Bashir said.
Bashir was imprisoned for conspiracy over the 2002 bomb attacks in the resort island of Bali, in which more than 200 people died. He was later cleared of wrongdoing.
Since his release from prison in June 2006, the controversial imam has travelled around the country preaching about the importance of Sharia, or Islamic law.
Abu Bilal, one of the 50 would-be fighters who attended Bashir's sermon, said he was ready "to fulfill God's calling" and fight those trying to oppress Muslims.
Pope offers prayer
Meanwhile in his strongest terms yet Pope Benedict condemned the violence in Gaza Sunday that has killed hundreds of "innocent victims."
Speaking at his weekly Sunday noon prayer, the pope also asked his listeners in St. Peter's Square and around the world to pray for the success of all efforts "to end the tragedy" and bring about lasting peace.
"Let us remember to the Lord today the hundreds of children, elderly, women who have fallen as innocent victims of unheard of violence, (as well as) the wounded, those who are mourning their loved ones and who have lost their possessions," he said.
The pope did not specifically mention either the Israeli or Palestinian side in the conflict but said he wanted to encourage those who believed that "there is room for everyone in the Holy Land."