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Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Israel on Monday, starting a historic five-day pilgrimage by calling for peace, an end to anti-Semitism, and freedom of worship and understanding between religions.
"Thank you for your warm welcome to Israel, a land which is holy to millions," Benedict said. "I appreciate the opportunity to come here."
"I come, like so many others before me, to pray at the holy places, to pray especially for peace - peace here in the Holy Land, and peace throughout the world," the pope continued, adding that although the name Jerusalem meant "city of peace," it was all too evident that peace had eluded the region.
Benedict called for the establishment of an independent Palestinian homeland immediately after he arrived in Israel, a stance that could put him at odds with his hosts on a trip aimed at easing strains between the Vatican and Jews.
Benedict urged Israelis and Palestinians to "explore every possible avenue" to resolve their differences in remarks at the airport after he landed.
"The hopes of countless men, women and children for a more secure and stable future depend on the outcome of negotiations for peace," he said. "In union with people of goodwill everywhere, I plead with all those responsible to explore every possible avenue in the search for a just resolution of the outstanding difficulties, so that both peoples may live in peace in a homeland of their own within secure and internationally recognized borders."
The pope also took on the issue of the Holocaust, pledging to "honor the memory" of the six million Jewish victims of the Nazi genocide.
He vowed to battle rising anti-Semitism, and spoke about his upcoming visit to Yad Vashem later in the day.
"Tragically, the Jewish people have experienced the terrible consequences of ideologies that deny the fundamental dignity of every human person," he said. "It is right and fitting that, during my stay in Israel, I will have the opportunity to honor the memory of the six million Jewish victims of the Shoah, and to pray that humanity will never again witness a crime of such magnitude."
"Sadly, anti-Semitism continues to rear its ugly head in many parts of the world. This is totally unacceptable," the pope continued. "Every effort must be made to combat anti-Semitism wherever it is found, and to promote respect and esteem for the members of every people, tribe, language and nation across the globe."
Turning to politics, the pontiff urged both Israelis and Palestinians to find a solution which will allow each side to live peacefully together.
"The eyes of the world are upon the peoples of this region as they struggle to achieve a just and lasting solution to conflicts that have caused so much suffering," he said. "The hopes of countless men, women and children for a more secure and stable future depend on the outcome of negotiations for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
"In union with people of good will everywhere, I plead with all those responsible to explore every possible avenue in the search for a just resolution of the outstanding difficulties, so that both peoples may live in peace in a homeland of their own, within secure and internationally recognized borders," the pope said. "In this regard, I hope and pray that a climate of greater trust can soon be created that will enable the parties to make real progress along the road to peace and stability."
Upon arrival at Ben-Gurion Airport, the pontiff was greeted by President Shimon Peres in a red-carpet reception. Peres warmly welcomed Benedict as "first among the faithful," and voiced hope that his presence would help foster peace in the region.
"Your Holiness the Pope, Benedict XVI, in the name of the State of Israel I welcome you and offer you a blessing on your arrival: peace," Peres said in Hebrew. Then, switching to Latin, added, "Hail Benedictus, first among the faithful, who visits the Holy Land today."
"I see your visit here, to the Holy Land, as an important spiritual mission of the highest order: a mission of peace," the president continued. "A mission of planting seeds of tolerance and uprooting the weeds of fanaticism. I appreciate your stances and your actions to bring down the level of violence and hatred in the world."
The Pope's trip comes amid lingering suspicions among Jews and Muslims over past actions and remarks by the Catholic spiritual leader. In his greetings, Peres alluded to that rift.
"I am certain that this will be a continuation of the dialogue between Judaism and Christianity in the spirit of the Prophets," he said. "Israel safeguards the absolute freedom of religious practice and free access to holy places. We are always happy to receive pilgrims from throughout the world in the Holy Land."
"We have made peace with Egypt and Jordan, and we are in negotiations to make peace with the Palestinians, and even to arrive at a comprehensive regional peace," the president continued. "Your visit here brings a blessed understanding between religions and spreads peace near and far. Historic Israel and the renewed Israel together welcome your arrival as paving the great road to peace from city to city."
Following the ceremony at the airport, Benedict XVI arrived in Jerusalem by helicopter, where he met with Mayor Nir Barkat upon his arrival in the capital.
"During your stay here, you will feel at home amongst friends who practice many faiths together in peace, harmony, and freedom," said Barkat. "You will feel at home as you breathe the ancient history and modern culture of Jerusalem. And you will feel at home because you too, Your Holiness, are a shareholder of this great city."
Barkat used the opportunity to call upon every person of faith to visit Jerusalem at least once in his/h lifetime.
Rebecca Anna Stoil contributed to this report.