Pope calls for two-state solution at end of Mideast tour

Pope Benedict XVI called for a two-state solution to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and spoke out vigorously against the Holocaust as he ended his tour of the Middle East with a farewell ceremony at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv.


AFP - Pope Benedict XVI on Friday called for a two-state solution to end Middle East wars and "terrorism" and slammed the Holocaust as "brutal extermination" as he concluded his Holy Land trip.

"Let the two-state solution become a reality," he said at a ceremony at Ben Gurion Airport, near Tel Aviv, before he left for Rome aboard an El Al plane.

"No more bloodshed. No more fighting. No more terrorism. No more war," the pontiff said at the conclusion of his eight-day pilgrimage to Jordan, Israel and the occupied West Bank.

"Let it be universally recognised that the state of Israel has the right to exist and to enjoy peace and security within internationally agreed borders.

"Let it be likewise acknowledged that the Palestinian people have a right to a sovereign independent homeland, to live with dignity and to travel freely."

The Vicar of Christ also spoke out forcefully against the Holocaust saying the world should never forget that "so many Jews.... were brutally exterminated under a godless regime that propagated an ideology of anti-Semitism and hatred."

Following his visit to Israel's Yad Vashem Memorial on Monday, the German pope had faced criticism that he failed to apologise for the murder of six million Jews, did not use the word German or Nazi and showed little emotion.

But Israeli President Shimon Peres told the pope at the airport that his statements on the Holocaust and anti-Semitism "touched our hearts and minds."

Earlier Friday, the pope knelt in silent prayer in a tiny cavelike room revered as the tomb of Jesus and again at the spot where most Christians believe their Prince of Peace was crucified, both in Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

In the church, Christianity's holiest site, the leader of the world's 1.1 billion Catholics repeated his call for peace in the land revered by the world's three monotheistic faiths that has been wracked by decades of violence.

His visit to the 11th century church in the Old City of Jerusalem came on the same day that Palestinians marked the 61st anniversary of what they call the Naqba, the "catastrophe" of Israel's creation in 1948.

During his pilgrimage, the pope prayed at some of Christianity's most sacred destinations, visited Muslim and Jewish holy sites at the heart of the Middle East conflict, stood in silence at Israel's Holocaust memorial and saw the conditions in which Palestinians refugees live.

The 82-year-old pope took his message of peace and reconciliation to religious leaders of various denominations, to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

In Bethlehem, the cradle of Christianity, the pope visited Palestinian refugees living in the shadow of the eight-metre- (25-foot-)high wall that forms part of the West Bank separation barrier Israel says is crucial to its security but which to Palestinians symbolises the Jewish state's "apartheid" regime.

"Towering over us... is a stark reminder of the stalemate that relations between Israelis and Palestinians seem to have reached -- the wall," Benedict said at a refugee camp just outside the occupied West Bank city.

He expressed his solidarity with refugees and said his heart went out to relatives of detainees and families divided by Israeli restrictions on freedom of movement for Palestinians.

The pope called for the lifting of the crippling blockade Israel has imposed against Gaza since the Islamic Hamas movement seized power there in June 2007 and expressed sorrow for the victims of the deadly 22-day military offensive Israel launched against the Palestinian enclave in December 2008.

Benedict prayed at Jerusalem's Western Wall, a top pilgrimage destination for Jews, and visited the compound overlooking it, sacred to both Jews and Muslims, and has been a major flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The pontiff celebrated open-air masses in Jerusalem, Nazareth and Bethlehem during his visit to Israel and the West Bank and at a football stadium in Amman while in Jordan.

In a poignant moment on Thursday, the rarely spontaneous pope rose to his feet and held hands with leaders of other religions in Nazareth, the boyhood town of Jesus, as a rabbi sang a soulful song of peace.

But despite his numerous calls for inter-faith reconciliation, the pope disappointed some Muslim clerics who wanted him to apologise anew for remarks he made in 2006 when he quoted a medieval Christian emperor who called some of the Prophet Mohammed's teachings "evil and inhuman."


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