January 10, 2009 / 7:24 PM / 9 years ago

Voodoo priests pray for Israel-Palestinian peace

By Samuel Elijah

ABOMEY, Benin, Jan 10 (Reuters) - Voodoo priests in Benin offered sacrifices and prayers to gods and ancestors on Saturday to seek an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to other wars in Africa and elsewhere in the world.

The small West African state sandwiched between Togo and Nigeria is the home of the ancient Voodoo religion, which was later carried by slaves to the Americas where it survives in different forms in countries like Brazil, Haiti and Cuba.

Addressing devotees at Abomey, 145 km (90 miles) north of Cotonou, voodoo high priest Dah Aligbonon referred to the conflict in Gaza during ceremonies to celebrate Benin's national voodoo day, a festival which draws hundreds of foreign visitors.

"All wars, which we deplore, have their origin for the most part in religious misunderstandings," said Dah Aligbonon.

After sacrificing a cock, spilling its blood on the ground in honour of deities and ancestors, the high priest invoked their aid to end conflict in Gaza, in Somalia, in Democratic Republic of Congo and "everywhere where peace is under threat".

"If there is no tolerance, religious hatred will spawn what is happening today in Palestine, where dozens of infants and innocents are paying for the intolerance of their parents," he added, speaking after traditional chants and dancing.

He called for a dialogue between religions in the world.

The voodoo priests, through the casting of cowrie shells, also consulted an oracle, which made a prediction for the year.

The prediction urged Benin, and the wider world, to abandon hate, pride and jealousy and embrace unity, peace and tolerance.

In capitals across Africa, thousands of protesters have taken to the streets in recent days to demand an end to Israel's 15-day-old offensive in the Gaza Strip, during which 830 Palestinians and 13 Israelis are reported to have died. (For full Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the top issues, visit: africa.reuters.com/) (Writing by Pascal Fletcher, editing by Tim Pearce)

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