VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 24, 2002 ( John Paul II appealed to Ariel Sharon to put an end to the siege of Yasser Arafat's general headquarters in Ramallah, warning that the operation seriously compromises peace efforts.

Vatican spokesman Joaquín Navarro-Valls reported today that a message was sent to the Israeli Prime Minister on behalf of the Pope by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state. The Holy Father also expressed his solidarity to the Palestinian leader.

"Concerned about the grave attack on the headquarters of the Palestinian National Authority," the press statement continues, the Pope requests "the suspension of these actions, which compromise the already fragile hopes of peace for that region."

The Holy Father called for "a speedy renewal of the dialogue between the parties, in reciprocal respect and mutual understanding."

In addition, the Vatican spokesman revealed that Cardinal Sodano sent another message to "President Arafat" to express "the closeness of His Holiness John Paul II and his own personal" support.

The cardinal confirmed in his message that "the Holy See will continue in its commitment to the defense of the right of every nation to live in peace within safe borders and in a climate of reciprocal respect."

Over the past months, John Paul II has referred to the Middle East during numerous Wednesday general audiences and before reciting the Angelus on Sundays, calling for an end to violence and the renewal of dialogue.

Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, Vatican secretary for relations with states, has said repeatedly that attaining peace in the region requires harmonizing Israel's right to a secure state with Palestine's right to its own sovereignty. In order to achieve this, the Vatican calls for respect for U.N. resolutions.

In regard to the protection of holy places, especially Jerusalem, the Vatican does not request the "internationalization" of the city, as some media reported. Rather, the Vatican wants an internationally guaranteed statute so that Jewish, Muslim and Christian sacred places will be respected.

A lengthy exposition of the Vatican's position on this issue was given by Archbishop Tauran at the United Nations in October 1999 (see ZENIT archives). The address is entitled "The Holy See and the Holy Land: Justice and Charity."

Today, the U.N. Security Council approved a resolution urging Israel to end the siege in Ramallah, and to withdraw to the positions held before September 2000.