Abbas, Pope discuss Middle East peace process at Vatican

ROME: Pope Francis on Saturday received Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas shortly before the opening of a Palestinian Embassy in the Vatican City, the Vatican confirmed. The two leaders discussed the Middle East peace process, the French peace initiative and the fight against terrorism, said Abbas, speaking to Palestinian television after the meeting. Abbas and the pope shared their hopes for direct negotiations in finding a solution in the Middle East conflict and for “an end to the violence that causes unacceptable suffering to civilian populations,” a statement from the Vatican said.
The Ansa news agency quoted Abbas as saying that the opening of the new embassy in the Vatican was a sign “that the pope loves the Palestinian people and that he loves peace”.
The Vatican City officially recognised Palestine as a sovereign state in 2016 and the pope previously referred to Abbas as an “angel of peace” during a May 2015 visit to Rome.
Prior to the Saturday’s meeting, a high-ranking Palestinian official expressed the hope that Francis would deliver a clear message to US President-elect Donald Trump. Trump had announced that the US would move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and recognised the officially divided city as the capital of Israel.
Such a decision, Abbas was quoted by Ansa as saying, would not serve peace.
Palestinians are demanding an independent state of their own with its capital in east Jerusalem.
Abbas was also set to meet Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, the Palestinian Liberation Organisation said.
The Vatican made no further comment about Saturday’s meeting with the pope, which comes as diplomats from the Middle East prepare to take part in a peace conference in Paris on Sunday.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has received an invitation from Abbas to discuss the outcome of the conference in Paris, although it is not yet clear when this meeting will take place.
More than 130 countries have recognised Palestine as an independent state, with the United Nations admitting Palestine observer status to the organisation despite opposition from Israel’s ally the United States.
During the 1967 Middle East war, the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip were captured by Israel from Jordan and Egypt respectively. Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2005, but continues to occupy the West Bank. — DPA