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Pope Francis talks to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as they exchange gifts during a private audience at the Vatican on Monday.—AP
Pope Francis talks to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as they exchange gifts during a private audience at the Vatican on Monday.—AP

VATICAN CITY: The Vatican has reaffirmed its longstanding call for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict following a visit by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, as the US says it is preparing to present its long-awaited peace plan.

Abbas met for 20 minutes on Monday with Pope Francis and then the Vatican foreign minister, Monsignor Paul Gallagher.

The Vatican said the talks focused on efforts to reactivate the peace process “and to reach a two-state solution, hoping for a renewed commitment on the part of the international community to meet the legitimate aspirations of both peoples.”

A Vatican statement said Jerusalem must remain a holy city for Christians, Muslims and Jews.

It was the first visit by Abbas since the US transferred its embassy and recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The Vatican expressed concern over the status of Jerusalem as Pope Francis and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas held their first meeting since the United States stirred international anxiety by moving its embassy there.

The two embraced and kissed on the cheek as the pontiff welcomed Abbas to a library in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace.

“Particular attention was reserved for the status of Jerusalem, underlining the importance of recognising and preserving its identity and the universal value of the holy City for the three Abrahamic religions,” a Vatican statement said, referring to Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.

US President Donald Trump outraged the Arab world last year when he reversed decades of policy by recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and put Washington’s embassy there. It was opened in May.

Palestinians, with broad international backing, want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future independent state, while Israel views the whole city its “united and eternal” capital.

The Vatican expressed concern last year at Trump’s move, saying the city’s “status quo” should be respected. Pope Francis has called for all to honour UN resolutions on the city.

Published in Dawn, December 4th, 2018

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