Standing in the shadow of a controversial Israeli-erected wall during his one-day visit to the West Bank Wednesday, Pope Benedict XVI called the barrier a symbol of "stalemate" between Israel and the Palestinians and urged both sides to break the "spiral of violence".
During a visit to a Palestinian refugee camp near Bethlehem on the third day of his five-day landmark Mideast tour, the pope prayed for “an end to the hostilities that have caused this wall to be built."
Addressing a gathering at the Aida refugee camp, which is located at the foot of the West Bank wall, the pope lamented the “tragic” West Bank barrier.
"Towering over us, as we gather here this afternoon, is a stark reminder of the stalemate that relations between Israelis and Palestinians seem to have reached — the wall," he said.
It was the kind of imagery and language that Palestinians had been hoping for from the pope's visit to the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
The pope’s comments on the West Bank barrier came hours after he issued a call for a Palestinian homeland during a visit to Bethlehem, a town where Christians believe Jesus was born.
At the residence of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas earlier Wednesday, the pope told Palestinians that the Vatican supported a "sovereign Palestinian homeland in the land of your forefathers, secure and at peace with its neighbours, within internationally recognised borders". He also called on Palestinians to resist the "temptation of terrorism".
Abbas, standing stood next to the pope on the ceremonial dais in the Aida refugee camp, called on Israel to embrace peace.
"In front of your holiness I address a message of peace to our Israeli neighbours," said Abbas. "And I call upon them to renounce occupation, settlements, arrests, and humiliations."