Syria's foremost Muslim leader declared on Tuesday that Islam commands its followers to protect Judaism, according to Army Radio.

"If the Prophet Mohammed had asked me to deem Christians or Jews heretics, I would have deemed Mohammed himself a heretic," Sheikh Ahmed Hassoun, the Mufti of Syria, was quoted as telling a delegation of American academics visiting Damascus.

Hassoun, the leader of Syria's majority Sunni Muslim community, also told the delegates that Islam was a religion of peace, adding: "If Mohammed had commanded us to kill people, I would have told him he was not a prophet."

Religious wars were the result of politics infiltrating systems of faith, he said, asking:

"Was Moses of Middle Eastern or European descent? Was Jesus a Protestant or a Catholic? Was Mohammed Shi'ite or Sunni?"

According to the Mufti, the conflict between Israel and its Arabs neighbors has nothing to do with an Islamic war against Judaism.

"Before you got American citizenship, and I got Syrian citizenship, we were all brothers under the dome of God," he said.

Jews had once lived in Syria peacefully and with fair treatment, he added, explaining that his own grandfather had a Jewish partner.

"Jews lived in Syria for years and they still have a role in Syrian society," he said.