Abbas meets Pope, invites him to Jerusalem and holy places

By Haaretz Service and News Agencies

Haaretz

Kislev 2, 5766

VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI held talks on Saturday with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, who expressed hope the pontiff would visit Jerusalem.

"You will be very welcome in Jerusalem and all the holy places," Abbas, speaking English, told the pope after their private 20-minute meeting, when journalists were allowed to witness their goodbyes.

"Thank you very much," the pope replied. Both men were smiling and appeared relaxed.

Last month, Israeli President Moshe Katsav invited Benedict to Israel, and said he hoped the pope would visit next year.

No details about Abbas' meeting with Benedict in the pontiff's library were released immediately.

The Palestinian leader scheduled a news conference for later in the afternoon in Rome.

The Vatican news bulletin listed the meeting, which was expected to include a review of Middle East tensions and peace prospects, without comment.

One of the members in the Palestinian delegation presented the pope with what was described as a "Palestinian passport." Instead of listing a name, the document said "Vatican City State," officials said. The delegate, who was not immediately identified by the Vatican, and the pope chatted in German briefly as Benedict examined the document.

Abbas' visit to the Vatican, which included separate talks with the pope's secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, was his last major appointment of a three-day visit to Italy. Middle East peace prospects were expected to be on the agenda of talks Saturday.

The appointment at the Vatican was the last major appointment of a three-day visit to Italy by Abbas.

Abbas vowed on Friday to end the violence that marred primary elections across the Palestinian territories earlier in the week. He also promised "security and transparency" in next month's parliamentary elections.

On Friday, at a news conference with Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, Abbas praised Sharon, who recently formed a new political party for the upcoming March 28 elections.

Abbas expressed confidence that the Israeli people would chose the path of peace in the Israeli elections.