Arafat Praises Pope as Defender of Rights

Asks Italy to Accelerate Arrival of International Observers

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ROME, AUG. 2, 2001 ( Yasser Arafat praised John Paul II for his advocacy for justice in the Mideast conflict.

His comments appeared in an interview in the Italian newspaper La Stampa, on the same day the Palestinian leader was received in audience at the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo, southeast of Rome.

«We are very proud of the special relations we have with the Holy Father,» Arafat was quoted as saying. «The Pope came to visit us and participated with us in the celebrations of the Jubilee of the Year 2000; he has always taken a firm position in favor of justice and peoples´ rights.»

To end the Mideast conflict, the Vatican previously proposed that «priority be given to dialogue; to the application of international decisions, especially U.N. resolutions; and to the need for an internationally guaranteed special status for the holy places of the three monotheist religions.»

Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, Vatican secretary for relations with states, made this proposal a year ago with then U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, following the failed Camp David talks.

The leader of the Palestinian Authority told La Stampa that his 24-hour visit to Italy was to ask the government to help accelerate the arrival of international observers, as called for by the recent G-8 summit, despite the fact that Israel is opposed to this measure.

Asked about Ariel Sharon´s accusations that Arafat failed to control extremists´ violence, the Palestinian leader noted that Sharon has not been able to control his own army´s violence, nor was Italy able to control the violence at the G-8 summit in Genoa.

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