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Tuesday 23 October 2018

Pope Francis urges two-state solution to Palestinian conflict

Pope Francis on balcony overlooking Rome’s St Peter’s Square. Photo: Reuters
Pope Francis on balcony overlooking Rome’s St Peter’s Square. Photo: Reuters

Harriet Alexander

Pope Francis has used his Christmas message to call for a negotiated two-state solution to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, hours after Guatemala announced that it was becoming the first country to follow President Donald Trump's lead and recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Mr Trump's December 6 declaration - overwhelmingly condemned at the United Nations general assembly last week - has sparked clashes that have left at least 12 Palestinians dead.

On Christmas Eve Jimmy Morales, the president of Guatemala, announced that his country was to follow the US lead and relocate its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Guatemala and Israel have long had close ties, especially in security matters and Israeli arms sales to Guatemala. No other country has their embassy for Israel in Jerusalem, though the Czech Republic has said it is considering such a move.

Pope Francis used his Urbi et Orbi address, four days after the UN vote, to call for peace in the Middle East.

"Let us pray that the will to resume dialogue may prevail between the parties and that a negotiated solution can finally be reached, one that would allow the peaceful coexistence of two states within mutually agreed and internationally recognised borders," he said, referring to the Israelis and Palestinians. "We see Jesus in the children of the Middle East who continue to suffer because of growing tensions between Israelis and Palestinians."

It was the second time that the Pope has spoken out publicly about Jerusalem since Mr Trump's decision, having previously called for the city's "status quo" to be respected, lest new tensions in the Middle East further inflame world conflicts.

Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of their future independent state, whereas Israel has declared the whole city to be its "united and eternal" capital.

Francis also used his speech to urge kindness towards refugees, calling on the world's 1.2 billion Catholics to see the defenceless baby Jesus in the children who suffer the most from war, migration and natural calamities caused by man. "Today, as the winds of war are blowing in our world ... Christmas invites us to focus on the sign of the child and to recognise him in the faces of little children, especially those for whom, like Jesus, 'there is no place in the inn'," he said.

The Pope recently visited Myanmar and Bangladesh, visiting refugee camps where the more than 600,000 Rohingya people forced from their homes are sheltering. He also listed conflicts affecting children in South Sudan, Somalia, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Ukraine and Venezuela.

At his Christmas Eve Mass in St Peter's Basilica, Francis strongly defended immigrants, comparing them to Mary and Joseph finding no place to stay in Bethlehem and saying faith demands that foreigners be welcomed.

Irish Independent

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