VATICAN CITY, MAY 10, 2002 ( Following the end of the basilica siege in Bethlehem, the Holy See is pushing for an international conference aimed at bringing a lasting peace to the Holy Land.

Hours after the liberation of the Basilica of the Nativity, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres was received by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state, and by Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, Vatican secretary for relations with states.

A Vatican press statement said that although "the meeting took place, fortunately, in the context of the happy outcome of the siege of Bethlehem´s Basilica of the Nativity, one must not forget the grave problems that are still an obstacle to peace."

The statement, published by Vatican spokesman Joaquín Navarro-Valls after the meeting, explained that "on the part of the Holy See, reference was made to the line promoted by the Holy Father and his collaborators to find a peaceful solution to the problems, thanks to a persevering and loyal dialogue between the parties, with the help of the international community."

Navarro-Valls added that during the meeting "a plan was also discussed for an international peace conference, which should end with specific commitments for a just and lasting peace."

In an interview with the Italian magazine Panorama, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said: "I would like the conference to take place in Italy. I leave it up to the government of Rome to choose the place."