pope benedict 88.
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Pope Benedict XVI is considering visiting Israel in the first part of 2007, Shimon Peres said Thursday after meeting with the pontiff at the Vatican.
Peres gave the pope a letter from Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, which included the renewal of an invitation to visit Israel first made last year by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. "He indicated that he may do it in the first part of next year," Peres told a news conference.
Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls confirmed the invitation had been extended in a statement but gave no details on the pope's response.
Peres said he did not think outstanding issues between the Vatican and Israel over taxation of church properties would preclude a papal visit. Some analysts have suggested the pope might not make the trip until the issues are worked out.
Peres also dismissed concern that a Hamas-led government in the Palestinian territories would prevent the pope from visiting the region, saying: "I hope that by then the problem will not remain. Hamas made a government, but I don't see how they can govern."
Pope John Paul II visited Israel in March 2000, a half-year before the Palestinian outbreak of violence, and met with Israeli officials as well as Yasser Arafat during a stop in the Palestinian territories.
Benedict has continued John Paul's outreach to the Jews, visiting a synagogue in Cologne, Germany, during his first trip abroad last year.
Peres's office issued a statement saying that the pope showed interest in Peres's initiative to have the pontiff lead a worldwide effort to separate religion from terrorism.
Peres also discussed with the pope restoration plans for Nazareth, refurbishing the holy places in the city and turning the city into a major tourism center.