Pope Francis has called for peace in the Middle East. In Bethlehem, the 77-year-old pontiff said the prolonged Israeli-Palestinian conflict had become unacceptable.
In the West Bank Sunday, on the second leg of his three-day Middle East visit, Francis (right in photo) referred to the "state of Palestine" and urged the sides to negotiate an accord. US-backed negotiations aimed at ending the conflict collapsed last month, with Israelis accusing Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (left in photo) of sabotaging the talks by agreeing to a unity deal with Hamas, the Islamist party that runs the Gaza Strip.
"For the good of all, there is a need to intensify efforts and initiatives aimed at creating the conditions for a stable peace based on justice, on the recognition of the rights of every individual, and on mutual security," Francis said on Sunday.
President Abbas called the pope's visit on Sunday a "message to the entire world reminding it of the difficulty of life in Palestine," adding, "We are a people looking to live in freedom and dignity on our land."
After arriving in Jordan on Saturday, for his first Middle East visit as pope, Francis gave an open-air Mass in the capital, Amman. On Sunday, Francis became the first pope to travel directly to the West Bank rather than enter via Israel.
'Freedom and dignity'
Francis also made an unscheduled stop at Israel's 8-meter (26-foot) concrete West Bank barrier and went to the graffiti-covered wall to pray. He remained there for several minutes before climbing back aboard the popemobile.
After, Francis headed to Bethlehem's Manger Square, believed the birthplace of Jesus, to celebrate an open-air Mass for 10,000 people.
In Jerusalem on Monday, Francis will commemorate the 50th anniversary of a historic meeting of Catholic and Orthodox Christian leaders, who moved to end centuries of bitter divisions between the two churches, the stated purpose of his trip.
Israeli police said they arrested 26 people who took part in a protest early Sunday by Jewish nationalists at the Cenacle in Jerusalem, the traditional site of Jesus' Last Supper and where Francis plans to hold a Mass on Monday. The protesters say that Israel plans to give the site over to the Catholic Church. The government has denied any such deal.
mkg/hc (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)