- Joined Jun 14, 2007
From Times Online
May 13, 2009
[h1]Pope demands independent Palestinian state[/h1]
The Pope met Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinain President
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James Hider in Bethlehem, Nico Hines
Pope Benedict XVI travelled to one of the ancient centres of Christianity today and declared his strongest support yet for an independent Palestinian state.
The pontiff challenged the reluctant Israeli leadership to find a two-state solution to the enduring conflict in the Middle East as his increasingly political tour of the region reached Bethlehem.
The town, traditionally believed to be the birthplace of Jesus, now lies within the West Bank in the shadow of the eight-metre tall Israeli wall.
The Pope led Mass in Manger Square today in front of Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian President, and a crowd of several thousand Christians. As the crowd cheered and applauded he said his "heart goes out to the children" affected by the conflict.
He said he was praying that Israel's embargo on Gaza "will soon be lifted" and noted how strange it was that Bethlehem is associated with the joy and renewal of Jesus's birth "yet here in our midst how far this magnificent promise seems from being realised".
Palestinian security guards stood on the roof of the Church of the Nativity and the surrounding buildings with rifles and Kalashnikovs, as the Pope urged a lasting settlement.
"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," he said.
"In particular I call on the international community to bring its influence to bear in favour of a solution."
He said to the Palestinians gathered in the square: "I know how much you have suffered and continue to suffer as a result of the turmoil that has afflicted this land for decades.
"Have the courage to resist any temptation you may feel to resort to acts of violence or terrorism. Instead, let what you have experienced renew your determination to build peace."
The trip to the Palestinian territories came a day after he was criticised by some in Israel for failing to adequately express remorse for the Holocaust during a visit to a Second World War memorial.
The wartime past of Pope has threatened to overwhelm his mission to the Holy Land and yesterday the Vatican issued a surprise denial that the pontiff had served in the Hitler Youth.
The Vatican described him as man of strong anti-Nazi credentials and a peacemaker after critics were angered that he failed to apologise for what they see as Catholic indifference during the Nazi genocide.
The Pope's "peace mission" to the Middle East has proved more difficult than planned, but he has continued to speak out against the views of Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's Prime Minister.
The pontiff's support for a two-state solution is in line with the international community but not the new Prime Minister, who says the Palestinians are not ready to rule themselves.
The Pope will visit the Aida refugee camp on the outskirts of Bethlehem later today where he is expected to highlight the destitution of some of the Palestinian population.
Christians are a tiny minority among the 3.9 million Palestinians who live in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but thousands gathered to see the Pope this morning.
"When he comes and visits us, it gives us moral and material support," said Ramzi Shomali, a 27-year-old electric company worker. "It motivates us to stay in our land, and he will see our situation and will use his power for our good."
Victor Batarseh, Bethlehem's Christian mayor, said he hoped the papal mission would "encourage Palestinian Christians to be steadfast on their land and encourage them to stay".