JERUSALEM, Israel - Tensions flared between Israel and the Vatican on Saturday after a bishops' synod told the Jewish state it should not use the Bible to justify injustices against the Palestinians.
The comments were made at the conclusion of a two-week conference called by Pope Benedict XVI in which more than 200 bishops from Muslim countries discussed the growing exodus of Christians from the Middle East.
In a final joint communiqué, the bishops also demanded that Israel accept U.N. resolutions calling for an end to what they called the "occupation" of Arab lands.
Monsignor Cyril Salim Bustros, the Lebanese-born American archbishop who headed the conference, went even further.
"The Holy Scriptures cannot be used to justify the return of Jews to Israel and the displacement of the Palestinians, to justify the occupation by Israel of Palestinian lands," Bustros said at Saturday's Vatican press conference.
"We Christians cannot speak of the 'promised land' as an exclusive right for a privileged Jewish people," he continued. "This promise was nullified by Christ. There is no longer a chosen people - all men and women of all countries have become the chosen people."
The remarks overshadowed the pope's urgent appeal for peace between Israel and Palestine.
Israel expressed its disappointment over the statements and said the synod had been hijacked by what it called an "anti-Israel majority." The Jewish state called on the Vatican to distance itself from the remarks.
According to the foreign ministry, Israel is the only Middle Eastern country where the Christian population has increased - up nearly 50 percent over the last two decades.
The bishops' communiqué has no actual authority in the Catholic Church, but is considered to be a pastoral guideline.