VATICAN CITY, OCT. 30, 2001 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II received Yasser Arafat at the Vatican this morning and appealed for an end to Mideast violence and a commitment to dialogue and law as the only solution to the conflict.
According to Vatican Press Office director Joaquín Navarro-Valls, the president of the Palestine Authority came to report “on the worrying situation in the Palestinian Territories, referring in particular to the recent tragic events that have even affected Christianity´s holy places.”
On Oct. 20, Israeli public television showed pictures of the bullet holes in Bethlehem´s Basilica of the Nativity, during confrontations caused by Israel´s reoccupation of several West Bank cities. The clashes followed the assassination of an extreme-right Israeli government official by Palestinian terrorists.
Navarro-Valls said that Arafat during the 20-minute audience “clearly expressed the desire of Palestinian peoples for peace, condemning all forms of terrorism.”
“While expressing his sympathy over the numerous victims of the interminable spiral of violence, His Holiness renewed the appeal for all to lay down arms and renew negotiations,” the Vatican spokesman continued.
“The Holy Father repeated the Holy See´s position, which favors dialogue and compliance with international law, while not forgetting the commitment of the international community to assure the peoples of the region of reciprocal respect and security for all,” the statement signed by Navarro-Valls concluded.
Arafat arrived in Rome after Israel began a partial withdrawal of troops from Bethlehem. Israeli forces still surrounded a half-dozen West Bank cities this morning.
In statements to the press on Monday night, Arafat said that the troop withdrawal is a good sign for the peace process and that it was possible thanks to the pressure exerted on Israel by the United States, Europe, Russia and the United Nations.
John Paul II and Arafat have met 11 times in the Vatican. They also met during the Pope´s trip to the Holy Land in March 2000.
As is customary during such meetings, the two leaders exchanged gifts. The Pope gave Arafat an icon, and Arafat gave the Holy Father a Nativity scene made of pearls.