A group of Palestinian Christians has asked Pope Benedict XVI to call off his planned visit to Israel and the West Bank this coming May.

The 40 community activists wrote to the pope that his visit would "help boost Israel's image and inadvertently minimize Palestinian suffering under Israeli occupation."

The group urged the pope to link his visit to a series of Israeli measures, including improved access to Christian places of worship and halting taxation of church properties.

Christians from the West Bank, like their Muslim counterparts, need special permits to reach Jerusalem and its holy places.

The pontiff is to visit the Holy Land May 8-15, including stops in Jordan, the West Bank and Israel.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert last week confirmed the pope's spring pilgrimage, avoiding any mention of tense Catholic-Jewish relations over the pontiff's rehabilitation of a Holocaust-denying bishop. This will be first by a pope to the Holy Land since John Paul visited in 2000.

Catholic-Jewish relations have been extremely tense since Jan. 24, when Benedict lifted excommunications of four renegade traditionalist bishops in an attempt to heal a schism that began in 1988 when they were ordained without Vatican permission.

One of the bishops, Richard Williamson, denies the full extent of the Holocaust and says there were no gas chambers.

The Vatican has ordered him to recant but he so far has not done so, saying he needs more time to review the evidence.

Faced with Jewish anger over Williamson's remarks on the Holocaust, the pope said during a meeting with American Jewish leaders on Thursday that "any denial or minimization of this terrible crime is intolerable."

A detailed itinerary of the pope's visit is not yet available.

It would be the third visit of a reigning pontiff to Israel since the state was created in 1948.

Pope Paul VI made a one-day stopover from Jordan in 1964, but since the Vatican and Israel did not yet have diplomatic relations, he avoided any statement or act that could be interpreted as even indirect recognition of the Jewish state.

In March 2000, Pope John Paul II made a five-day pilgrimage to Israel and the Palestinian territories, during which he visited Christian and Jewish holy sites.