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Robertson apologizes to Sharon's son

Comments follow threatened exclusion from $50M heritage center

Evangelist Pat Robertson apologized Wednesday to Ariel Sharon's son, Omri.


Pat Robertson
Ariel Sharon

(CNN) -- Evangelist Pat Robertson apologized in a Wednesday letter for saying that the major stroke suffered by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was divine retribution for "dividing God's land."

The apology -- offered in a letter to Sharon's son, Omri -- followed a threat by Israel to exclude Robertson from a proposed $50 million Christian heritage site in northern Israel.

"My zeal, my love of Israel and my concern for the future safety of your nation led me to make remarks which I can now view in retrospect as inappropriate and insensitive in light of a national grief experienced because of your father's illness," Robertson wrote. (Watch how Robertson phrased the apology --:50)

In his letter, Robertson expressed "profound sympathy" for Sharon, who is making slight improvements after the cerebral hemorrhage he suffered last week. Robertson also called the 77-year-old leader "a kind, gracious and gentle man" who was "carrying an almost insurmountable burden of making decisions for his nation."

He added, "I ask your forgiveness and the forgiveness of the people of Israel for saying what was clearly insensitive at the time."

The evangelist also chided the news media for not conveying the "heartfelt sentiments" he also expressed the day after Sharon fell ill.

Robertson -- who vehemently opposed Sharon's dismantling of Israeli settlements in Gaza -- told viewers of his show, "The 700 Club," that God was exacting revenge on Sharon for his actions in Gaza. (Read about Robertson's previous comments)

"Woe unto any prime minister of Israel who takes a similar course to appease the EU, the United Nations or the United States of America," Robertson said on the January 5 program. "God says, 'This land belongs to me, and you'd better leave it alone.' "

Robertson added that Sharon was a "very likable person" and expressed sadness to see the prime minister in such a dire condition, but linked his stroke to the 1995 assassination of then-Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who signed the Oslo Accords that granted the Palestinians limited self-rule.

"It was a terrible thing that happened, but nevertheless, now he's dead," Robertson said of Rabin's killing.

His remarks prompted Israel's tourism ministry to say it would go ahead with plans to build an evangelical Christian heritage center without Robertson. (Full story)

"From our perspective, such a statement made for a person that is lying in a hospital bed is outrageous," Deputy Tourism Minister Rami Levy said.

Israel's Tourism Ministry on Thursday said the decision to continue the project without Robertson still stands, a spokeswoman said.

The prime minister's office had no comment on the issue, but Daniel Ayalon, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, said his nation accepted Robertson's apology.

"Israel respects Rev. Robertson and accepts his apology, which reflects his true friendship and support for the state of Israel," Ayalon said.

Robertson was leading a group of evangelicals planning the $50 million joint venture with Israel, which donated land along the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus is believed to have walked on water.

The controversy stemming from Robertson's comments was deemed "a blow to evangelical-Israeli relations" by the Rev. Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, which has 30 million members.

For the project to move forward, evangelical leaders "must exercise sensitivity and grace towards the people and leadership of the nation of Israel," Haggard said.

Israel says millions of evangelical Christians visit the nation each year, and the heritage center could draw even more tourists.

Robertson founded the Christian Coalition in 1989, the year after his failed bid for the Republican presidential nomination.

In August, Robertson stirred controversy among Jewish people by saying that God would bring judgment against Israel for its withdrawal from Gaza, which it has occupied since 1967.

CNN's Mary Snow and Shira Medding contributed to this report.

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