BETHLEHEM - Pope Francis on Sunday invited the Israeli and Palestinian presidents to come to the Vatican to pray for peace a month after U.S.-backed talks aimed at ending the Middle East conflict collapsed.

"In this, the birthplace of the Prince of Peace, I wish to invite you, President Mahmoud Abbas, together with President Shimon Peres, to join me in heartfelt prayer to God for the gift of peace," the Pope said at a Mass in Bethlehem.

"I offer my home in the Vatican as a place for this encounter of prayer," Francis said.

Asked about the invitation, a spokeswoman for Peres said in Jerusalem that he "always accepts any kind of initiative to promote peace". While Abbas heads the Palestinian government, Peres's presidential post is largely ceremonial.


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