Pope Francis is greeted by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas upon his arrival to the West Bank city of Bethlehem May 25, 2014..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told Pope Francis that he welcomes any initiative made to achieve peace in the Holy Land.
Speaking to reporters on Sunday after meeting with the Pope in Bethlehem, Abbas called on the Israeli government to “completely halt all actions that violate international law.”
Abbas claimed Israeli practices have driven “many Christians and Muslims to emigrate.”
He said he briefed Pope Francis on the latest developments surrounding the peace talks with Israel.
“We briefed His Holiness about the obstacles facing the peace process, first and foremost settlements, daily assaults on mosques and churches, as well as the continued incarceration of thousands of Palestinians in Israeli prisons,” Abbas said.
Abbas said he also talked to the Pope about the “tragic” conditions in east Jerusalem. He accused Israel of working toward altering the city’s character and identity, and driving Muslim and Christian residents out.
The PA president said he also complained to Pope Francis that Israel has been denying access to holy sites in Jerusalem to Muslims and Christians.
Abbas said he sought to make sure Palestinian Christians and Muslims remain deeply rooted “in the land of their ancestors.”
Addressing Israelis, Abbas said: “Let’s make peace based on justice and mutual respect. Like you, we seek stability for our people.”
He said that as soon as Israel withdraws to the pre- 1967 lines, all the Arab and Islamic countries would recognize Israel and immediately establish diplomatic ties with it.
Pope Francis, for his part, hailed Abbas as a “man of peace and a peacemaker.”
The Pope said his presence “today in Palestine” and a recent meeting he had with Abbas in the Vatican attest to the good relations existing between the Holy See and the “State of Palestine.”
“I trust that these relations can further develop for the good of all,” he said. “In this regard, I express my appreciation for the efforts being made to draft an agreement between the parties regarding various aspects of the life of the Catholic community in this country, with particular attention to religious freedom.”
Pope Francis said the time has come to put an end to the conflict in the region.
“For the good of all, there is a need to intensify efforts and initiatives and actions aimed at creating the conditions for a stable peace based on justice, on the recognition of the rights of every individual, and on mutual security. The time has come for everyone to find the courage to be generous and creative in the service of the common good, the courage to forge a peace, which rests on the acknowledgment by all of the right to two states to exist and to live in peace and security within internationally recognized borders.”
Pope Francis expressed hope that Israelis and Palestinians and their respective leaders would undertake his journey of peace “with the same courage and steadfastness needed for every journey.”