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Arab historian claims Jews manipulating Pope

A prominent Syrian historian has alleged that American and European Zionists prodded the Vatican into absolving Jews of responsibility for the death of Jesus.

Another says that under Pope John Paul II, the Catholic Church has fallen under Jewish influence.

Now that Pope John Paul is visiting Syria, his attempts to make peace with Judaism and other faiths have provoked widespread criticism.

Soheil Zakar, one of Syria's top historians, recently argued that "immense pressure" by American and European Zionist groups forced the Vatican in 1965 to absolve the Jews from the "historical responsibility" for the death of Jesus.

"It is like a pope who comes along and says, 'I don't care about the historical side of Christianity and I am only concerned with the creation of a new Christianity for a new world,"' said Zakar, a Muslim whose 1983 book "Popes from the Jewish Ghetto" claims that three medieval popes were of Jewish origin.

The Greek Catholic Bishop of Damascus, Isidore Battikha, whose church recognises the primacy of the pope, said such charges against the Vatican "are fantasies. Wrong fantasies."

"It is true that his holiness the pope has apologised to the Jews, but he also apologised for all the wrongs of the church in its history," Battikha said.