- Title: WEST BANK: Pope meets Abbas, calls for Palestinian state
- Date: 14th May 2009
- Summary: BETHLEHEM, WEST BANK (MAY 13, 2009) (REUTERS) VIEW OF MOSQUE IN MANGER SQUARE VARIOUS OF PEOPLE COMING THROUGH SECURITY CHECKPOINT
- Embargoed: 29th May 2009 13:00
- Topics: International Relations,Religion
- Reuters ID: LVA1G0DFF9TVWVU0G73YSXLRLDBF
- Aspect Ratio: 4:3
- Story Text: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas welcomes Pope Benedict to the West Bank town of Bethlehem, where the pontiff voices support for Palestinian statehood and prays for victims of the Israeli offensive on Gaza.
Pope Benedict went to the West Bank on Wednesday (May 13), offering Vatican support for a Palestinian state alongside Israel and his prayers for an end to Israel's embargo on the Gaza Strip.
He travelled to Bethlehem, the town of Jesus' birth, through the snaking Israeli security barrier that separates it from nearby Jerusalem on the third day of a tour of the Holy Land, while worshippers gathered in Manger Square, amid tight security.
"I hope that he can bring about a solution for the Middle East conflict, and through this gathering further unite Christians in Palestine and the Middle East," said Amjad Habash, a Bethlehem resident.
The pope was met by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who denounced Israel's security barier as part of efforts by the Jewish state to drive out Palestinian Christians and Muslims.
"In this Holy Land there are still people who are building walls that separate people instead of building bridges and seeks by force to force Palestinian Christians and Muslims to emigrate," said Abbas.
Thousands of Christians from Bethlehem have gone abroad since a Palestinian uprising in the years after 2000 saw an Israeli security clampdown and construction of the barrier that runs through and around the West Bank, restricting movement.
Benedict, speaking in bright morning sunshine, renewed the Vatican's support for a two-state solution to the conflict -- a solution supported by Abbas and Western powers but on which new Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been hesitant.
"Mr President, the Holy See supports the right of your people to a sovereign Palestinian homeland in the land of your forefathers, secure and at peace with its neighbours, within internationally recognised borders. Even if at present that goal seems far from being realised, I urge you and all your people to keep alive the flame of hope, hope that a way can be found of meeting the legitimate aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians for peace and stability," said the pope.
He also urged young Palestinians not to allow the destruction they have witnessed to make them bitter.
"Have the courage to resist any temptation you may feel to resort to acts of violence or terrorism. Instead, let what you have experienced review your determination to build peace," said the pontiff.
At a mass in Manger Square, next to the Church of the Nativity that marks the spot where Christians believe Jesus was born in a stable, he won applause from worshippers when he said: "My heart goes out to the pilgrims from war-torn Gaza."
"Please be assured of my solidarity with you in the immense work of rebuilding which now lies ahead, and my prayers that the embargo will soon be lifted."
The move to the West Bank may relieve Vatican officials of the strains that have dogged the German-born pope in Jerusalem, where Israeli leaders have complained that he did not go far enough in offering emotion in remarks he made on Monday at the Yad Vashem memorial to the Jewish dead of the Holocaust.
The pope flies back to Rome on Friday (May 15).
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