Pope John Paul II made history yesterday when he became the first Roman Catholic pontiff to set foot in an Islamic house of worship. After praying silently before the Tomb of St John the Baptist at the Umayyad mosque in Damascus, he gave an address in which he said Muslims and Christians should "offer each other forgiveness" for all the times they "have offended one another". Hundreds of Muslim and Christian wellwishers lined the narrow streets leading to the 1,300-year-old mosque with its vaulted ceiling, rows of white marble Corinthian columns and ornate mosaics in gold, turquoise and azure blue. The Pope had hoped to hold joint Moslem and Christian prayers, but these were cancelled at the last minute in order to avoid offending some of the Moslem clerics. Continuing his four-day tour of Syria, the Pope then visited a ruined town in the Golan Heights. He led prayers at an abandoned church in the Syrian-held ghost town of Quneitra calling upon the peoples of the Middle East to "tear down the walls of hostility and division". Thousands of former Quneitra residents were bussed in for the Pope's visit, during which he planted an olive tree as a symbol of peace.
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