Pope ends Holy Land trip with call for two-state solution

18th May 2009, Comments 0 comments

With US backing Israel and the Palestinians relaunched peace negotiations in November 2007 seeking to reach agreement on two separate states.

Ben Gurion Airport -- Pope Benedict XVI on Friday called for a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict and slammed the Holocaust as "brutal extermination" as he wound up a Holy Land tour.

"Let the two-state solution become a reality," he said at a ceremony at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport before he headed home to Rome.

"No more bloodshed. No more fighting. No more terrorism. No more war," the pontiff said as he ended an eight-day pilgrimage to Jordan, Israel and the occupied West Bank.

"Let it be universally recognised that the state of Israel has the right to exist and to enjoy peace and security within internationally agreed borders," he said.

"Let it be likewise acknowledged that the Palestinian people have a right to a sovereign independent homeland, to live with dignity and to travel freely."

With US backing Israel and the Palestinians relaunched peace negotiations in November 2007 seeking to reach agreement on two separate states.

But the new Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has refused to commit itself to a Palestinian state.

The pope's tour embraced meetings with Christians, Jews and Muslims, Arabs and Israelis but he said that, despite the animosities that have riven the region, he felt heartened by his experiences.

"There are great difficulties, we know, we have seen, we have heard, but I also saw that there is a deep desire for peace on the part of everyone," the 82-year-old pontiff told reporters on his flight home.

"You see difficulties, and we cannot hide them, but the desire for peace is even more visible."

The German-born pope spoke out forcefully against the Holocaust during his tour, saying the world should never forget that "so many Jews ... were brutally exterminated under a godless regime that propagated an ideology of anti-Semitism and hatred."

Following his visit to Israel's Yad Vashem Memorial on Monday, the German pope had faced criticism that he failed to apologise for the murder of six million Jews, did not use the word German or Nazi and showed little emotion.

But Israeli President Shimon Peres told the pope that his statements on the Holocaust and anti-Semitism "touched our hearts and minds."

Earlier on Friday, the pope knelt in silent prayer in a tiny cave like room revered as the tomb of Jesus and again at the spot where most Christians believe their Prince of Peace was crucified, both in Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

In the church, Christianity's holiest site, the leader of the world's 1.1 billion Catholics repeated his call for peace in the land revered by the world's three monotheistic faiths but wracked by decades of violence.

His visit to the 11th century church in the Old City of Jerusalem came on the same day that Palestinians marked the 61st anniversary of what they call the Naqba, the "catastrophe" of Israel's creation in 1948.

During his pilgrimage, the pope prayed at some of Christianity's most sacred sites, visited Muslim and Jewish holy places at the heart of the Middle East conflict, stood in silence at Israel's Holocaust memorial and saw the conditions in which Palestinians refugees live.

The 82-year-old pope took his message of peace and reconciliation to religious leaders of various denominations, to the Israeli premier and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

In Bethlehem, the cradle of Christianity, the pope visited Palestinian refugees living in the shadow of the eight-metre (25-foot) wall that forms part of the West Bank separation barrier Israel says is crucial to its security but which to Palestinians symbolises the Jewish state's "apartheid" regime.

He expressed his solidarity with refugees and said his heart went out to relatives of detainees and families divided by Israeli restrictions on freedom of movement for Palestinians.

The pope called for the lifting of the crippling blockade Israel has imposed on Gaza since the Islamic Hamas movement seized power there in June 2007.

Benedict prayed at Jerusalem's Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site, and visited the compound overlooking it, which is sacred to both Jews and Muslims and has been a major flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.



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