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The Vatican will do its best to ensure that abducted soldier Gilad Shalit is returned to Israel, Papal Nuncio Archbishop Antonio Franco told The Jerusalem Post on Monday after emerging from a closed-door meeting with President Moshe Katsav.
Franco said that he was not fully informed of the details, as he had just been in Rome, but he was certain that the Vatican - for humanitarian reasons and due to its commitment to saving lives and preventing violence - would utilize its resources to bring Shalit home.
Franco had come to Beit Hanassi to present his credentials as the Vatican's envoy, and in the private conversation that followed Katsav raised the issue of Gilad Shalit and sought the aid of the Holy See.
Franco's response, even before consulting with the Vatican, was instantly positive. He said that he would contact Catholic clergy in Gaza to begin the mobilization of the humanitarian effort as quickly as possible.
Katsav and Franco also discussed the possibility that Pope Benedict XVI might visit Israel in 2007. No date had been set for a papal visit, Franco told Katsav, but he assured him that it was on the agenda.
When Katsav was in Rome last November, he visited the Vatican and personally invited the pope to come to Israel. The pope expressed an interest, but no specific date was set.
In the interim, Shimon Peres visited the pope in April, and carried with him a second invitation issued by Ehud Olmert, who at the time was acting prime minister.
More recently Franco and Tourism Minister Isaac Herzog discussed the possibility that the World Conference of Bishops, which is held annually in Rome, would be held next year in Israel with the participation of the pope. The matter is yet to be finalized.
Other ambassadors who presented credentials on Monday included Nana Owusu Nsiah, the ambassador for Ghana; Lt.-Gen. (res.) Winston Choo Wee Leong, the non-resident ambassador for Singapore, who is stationed in his home country; and Aaron Maboyi-ncube, the non-resident ambassador for Zimbabwe, whose embassy is situated in Cairo.
Exuding national pride, Nsiah together with his wife and six members of staff came attired in his country's traditional dress, which in the case of the men consisted of a colorful, oversized toga worn over a snow-white collarless tunic of embroidered cotton lace, and in the case of the women a straight skirt with matching top and shawl in fabrics similar to those of the men. Nsiah also wore a lot of gold jewelry, explaining to Katsav that Ghana is known for its gold.
Ghana was one of 29 African countries that severed diplomatic relations with Israel in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War. Renewal of relations began in the 1980s and continued into the 1990s.
Ghana, like most other African states, benefits from the programs of Mashav, the Foreign Ministry's Center for International Cooperation, which among other things established a trauma unit in Ghana.
Aside from reviewing bilateral relations, Katsav and Nsiah - who had both been following developments in the World Cup, albeit from different perspectives - also discussed soccer.
Nsiah told Katsav how happy he was to be in the Promised Land and how surprised he had been to discover its greenery. He thought he was coming to a desert, he said.
He also extended an invitation from President John Agyekum Kufuor for Katsav to visit Ghana. Beit Hanassi made previous plans for Katsav to visit African states, but these were disrupted by the unexpected timing of the Knesset elections.
Leong, who for 18 years was Singapore's Chief of General Staff, is no stranger to Israel. He has visited frequently since 1969, although for some years Singapore's relations with Israel, though always excellent, were deliberately low-profiled.
Singapore's previous ambassadors to Israel were stationed in Paris, but Leong will be commuting from his homeland.
Katsav suggested that now that relations between the countries were much more open than they had been in the past it was high time for Singapore to appoint a resident ambassador. Leong concurred, but the final decision is not his to make.