John Paul II Makes a Farewell Bid for Peace

«Confrontation … Will Always Fail,» He Says in Syria

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DAMASCUS, Syria, MAY 8, 2001 ( John Paul II appealed for a «just peace» to solve the Mideast´s problems, as he bid farewell to Syria this morning.

Before departing for Malta from Damascus´ international airport, the Pontiff thanked Syrian President Bashar Assad and members of his government for the warm welcome given to him during his four-day stay. John Paul II´s visit to Syria was the second leg of his pilgrimage in the footsteps of St. Paul.

The Holy Father said he hoped that his visit to the Omayyad mosque — a papal first — on Sunday would serve «to witness to the world that religion, as adoration of Almighty God, sows the seed of peace in peoples´ hearts.»

The Pontiff added, however, that if the «door of peace» is to open, «the fundamental issues of truth and justice, of human rights and responsibilities must be resolved.»

«The world looks to the Middle East with hope and concern, expectantly awaiting every sign of constructive dialogue,» John Paul II said in the presence of the Syrian president. «Many serious obstacles remain, yet the first step towards peace must be a steadfast conviction that a solution is possible within the parameters of international law and the resolutions of the United Nations.»

Although the Pope did not explain them, according to the resolutions he referred to, Syria should withdraw from Lebanon, and Israel from the Golan Heights, the occupied Palestinian territories, and southern Lebanon. These same resolutions are designed to guarantee Israel´s right to security.

The Holy Father appealed «to all the peoples involved, and to their political leaders, to recognize that confrontation has failed and will always fail. Only a just peace can bring the conditions needed for the economic, cultural and social development to which the peoples of the region have a right.»

For his part, President Assad expressed satisfaction over the success of the Pope´s trip and for his words on the re-establishment of international justice in virtue of U.N. resolutions.

Assad also responded to Israel, explaining that the Syrian people cannot be accused of anti-Semitism, because they too are a Semitic people.

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