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Pope Francis hosts Peres and Abbas Vatican meeting

13 June 2014

AP

The Pope called on Christians to help end the "grim trail of death and destruction" in the Middle East

The Pope called on Christians to help end the "grim trail of death and destruction" in the Middle East

POPE FRANCIS has called on the leaders of Israel and the Palestinians to summon up the courage needed to make peace in the Middle East.

He was speaking last Sunday during a meeting with the Israeli President, Shimon Peres, and the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, in the Vatican.

Two weeks ago, during his visit to the Holy Land, the Pope invited the two men to Rome to pray together for peace.

Pope Francis, greeting the two leaders in the Vatican gardens, said that peacemaking "calls for courage, much more so than warfare. It calls for the courage to say yes to encounter and no to conflict: yes to dialogue and no to violence; yes to negotiations and no to hostilities; yes to respect for agreements and no to acts of provocation; yes to sincerity and no to duplicity. All of this takes courage; it takes strength and tenacity."

History had proved, the Pope said, that human strength alone was not enough. More than once "we have been on the verge of peace, but the Evil One, employing a variety of means, has succeeded in blocking it. That is why we are here, because we know and we believe that we need the help of God.

"We do not renounce our responsibilities, but we do call upon God in an act of supreme responsibility before our consciences and before our peoples."

The Pope said that it was the duty of all to respond to God's summons "to break the spiral of hatred and violence, and to break it by one word alone: the word 'brother'. But to be able to utter this word we have to lift our eyes to heaven, and acknowledge one another as children of one Father."

President Peres said: "It is within our power to bring peace to our children. This is our duty, the holy mission of parents. Two peoples - Israelis and Palestinians - still are aching for peace. The tears of mothers over their children are still etched in our hearts.

"We must put an end to the cries, to the violence, to the conflict. We all need peace. Peace between equals."

For his part, President Abbas called on God to bring a "comprehensive and just peace" to the region. He also quoted the words of St John Paul II: "If peace is realised in Jerusalem, peace will be witnessed in the whole world." The Palestinians, he said, wanted "peace for us and for our neighbours".

At present, however, no mechanism is in place for peace talks to resume - the latest US-brokered talks broke down in April. Furthermore, the formation last week of a new Palestinian government, compromising representatives from both Fatah and Hamas, after years of mutual hostility between the two, could present another obstacle in the form of Israel's subsequent refusal to deal with the Palestinian leadership.

The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said that Mr Abbas "chose Hamas, and not peace. Whoever chooses Hamas does not want peace." A government spokesman said the Palestinian leader was "embracing extremists who not only Israel, butthe international community, has called a terrorist organisation".

The Israeli Housing Ministry responded to the creation of the new government by announcing plans for 900 new settlement homes in the West Bank, and 500 in East Jerusalem. The Housing Minister, Uri Ariel, said that they were an "appropriate Zionist response to the Palestinian terror government".

But the Justice Minister, Tzipi Livni, Israel's chief negotiator with the Palestinians, said that the settlement plan was a "political mistake" that would "only distance us from the ability to recruit the world against Hamas".

Indeed, Mr Peres's decision to meet Mr Abbas in the Vatican is a sign that senior figures in Israel disapprove of the government's decision to boycott the Palestinian leadership.

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