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Vatican signs first accord with Palestine, making recognition of state official

The Vatican has signed its first accord with Palestine, legally recognizing it as a state. The Holy See said it hopes the agreement will lead to improved relations in the Middle East although Israel expressed regret.

Vatican Foreign Minister Paul Gallagher and his Palestinian counterpart, Riad al-Malki, signed the treaty at a ceremony inside the Vatican on Friday.

The treaty covers the life and the activity of the Catholic Church in Palestine. It is the first accord since the Vatican recognized the Palestinian state in February 2013, and marks the Vatican's first legal recognition of Palestine.

Gallagher said he hoped the Vatican's recognition "may in some way be a stimulus to bringing a definitive end to the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which continues to cause suffering for both parties."

The Vatican had welcomed the decision by the UN General Assembly in 2012 to recognize a Palestinian state.

Calling the agreement "historic," al-Malki said it marked "a recognition of the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, freedom and dignity in an independent state of their own, free from the shackles of occupation."

Israel complains

The Israeli Foreign Ministry expressed "regret" at the Vatican's decision. Israel called the accord "a hasty step (that) damages the prospects for advancing a peace agreement."

Both the United States and Israel oppose recognizing the Palestinian state. They say that it undermines US-led efforts to negotiate an Israeli-Palestinian deal on the terms of Palestinian statehood.

Israel also said it could have implications on its future diplomatic relations with the Vatican.

But Gallagher called for peace negotiations to resume between Israelis and Palestinians towards a two-state solution. "This certainly requires courageous decisions, but it will also offer a major contribution to peace and stability in the region," he said.

jm/bk (dpa, Reuters, AP)

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