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Published On: Mon, May 26th, 2014

Pope gives nod to Palestinian statehood

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By Hassan Haruna Ginsau, with agency report

Pope Francis yesterday gave support for Palestine’s bid for full statehood when he referred to them as a “state” during the second leg of a three-day trip to the Middle East.

Francis delighted his Palestinian hosts by referring to the “state of Palestine”. This comes in the middle of a paralyzed peace process with Israel.

Pope Francis made the surprise statement when he stopped at a wall Palestinians view as a symbol of Israeli oppression, and later invited presidents from both sides of the divide to the Vatican to pray for peace.

In a symbolic image, Francis rested his forehead against the concrete structure that separates Bethlehem from Jerusalem, and prayed while a child holding a Palestinian flag looked on.

He stood at a spot where someone had sprayed in red paint: “Free Palestine”. Above his head was graffiti comparing the Palestinians’ plight with that of the Jews under the Nazis.

Speaking in the Palestinian-run city of Bethlehem, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, he however made it clear that a negotiated agreement was needed, calling on leaders from both sides to overcome their differences.

Francis invited the Israeli and Palestinian presidents to come to the Vatican to pray for an end to the enduring conflict.

“In this, the birthplace of the Prince of Peace, I wish to invite you, President Mahmoud Abbas, together with President Shimon Peres, to join me in heartfelt prayer to God for the gift of peace,” the Pope said at an open-air Mass in Bethlehem.

Peres and Abbas both accepted the invitation, their respective staff said. Palestinian official, Hana Amira said the encounter would take place on June 6, just under two months before the veteran Israeli leader leaves office.

But it seemed unlikely that Peres would receive any mandate from Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to negotiate with Abbas on renewing direct talks.

U.S backed peace talks between both sides broke down a month ago.

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