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 CNS Story:

POPE-ABBAS Dec-17-2012 (530 words) With photos. xxxi

Solution to Israeli-Palestinian conflict requires talks, pope says

By Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Just weeks after the Vatican praised Palestine's boosted status as a non-member observer state at the United Nations, Pope Benedict XVI met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in a private audience at the Vatican.

During the "cordial" talks in the papal library Dec. 17, the two men discussed the need to restart talks between Israelis and Palestinians in a way that respects the rights of all parties involved, said a statement from the Vatican press office.

In discussions about the U.N. vote last month, the Vatican said it was hoped Palestine's new U.N. status "will encourage the commitment of the international community to finding a fair and lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which may be reached only by resuming negotiations between the parties, in good faith and according due respect to the rights of both," the statement said.

The two leaders also talked about the broader situation in the Middle East, which is "troubled by numerous conflicts," and expressed hopes that "the courage for reconciliation and peace will be found," the Vatican statement said.

The contribution Christian communities can offer in promoting the common good for the territories and the whole region was also discussed, it said.

As Abbas arrived, the pope greeted him in English, saying, "Welcome, it's good to see you." The president replied, "I'm very glad to see you here again." Abbas had met with the pope at the Vatican in June 2011.

The pope and Abbas spoke privately for 25 minutes before the president introduced his eight-man delegation. The pope gave Abbas a painting of the fountains in the Vatican gardens.

Abbas, who is president of the Palestinian National Authority, gave the pope a picture of Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulcher, traditionally believed to be the site of Jesus' crucifixion, burial and resurrection.

The pope said, in Italian, "It's very beautiful. Thank you."

The artwork, made up of large painted tiles, had an inscription -- in English and Arabic -- that said, "Presented by President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) President of the State of Palestine," reporters said.

Reporters traveling with the Palestinian delegation said that "it was not the first time" Abbas referred to the Palestinian territories as a Palestinian state since the U.N. General Assembly voted last month to grant Palestinians observer status.

Abbas' visit to the Vatican was part of a larger "tour of thanks," reporters said, expressing gratitude to world leaders for their support of Palestine's increased status at the United Nations.

Last month, 138 member states voted to boost Palestine's status from "entity" to "non-member state" -- the same status held by the Holy See -- in an implicit recognition of Palestinian sovereignty. Israel, the United States and Canada were among the nine states that voted against the motion. Forty-one countries abstained.

The Vatican had praised the United Nations vote, but called for full recognition of Palestinian sovereignty as necessary for peace in the region. Pope Benedict has repeatedly called for a two-state solution to "become a reality, not remain a dream."

After meeting the pope, Abbas met with Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican secretary of state, and Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, Vatican secretary for relations with states.

END


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