Israelis Block Patriarch Sabbah at Tel Aviv Airport

Officials Disregard His Vatican Diplomatic Passport

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VATICAN CITY, JAN. 19, 2003 ( Latin-rite Patriarch Michel Sabbah of Jerusalem was unable to leave Tel Aviv airport because of a security search he was subjected to by Israeli officials.

The Vatican’s semiofficial newspaper L’Osservatore Romano reported today that the search was a violation of the respect due to a Vatican diplomatic passport, which the patriarch showed at the airport Friday.

Consequently, the patriarch was unable to attend the symposium organized on Saturday in Rome by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. During that event, Archbishop Michael Louis Fitzgerald, council president, publicly noted the patriarch’s absence.

The Latin patriarch was scheduled to deliver an address on “The Spiritual Resources of Religion for Peace.”

In his speech, which was read at the symposium in his absence, Patriarch Sabbah said that the priority task of religions in the Middle East is to contribute to “break the spiral of violence.”

Sources of the patriarchate told ZENIT that the Israeli security services not only obliged the patriarch to open his suitcases to inspect what he was carrying, but they also tried to search through his personal documents.

The Italian newspaper Avvenire considered the search a violation of the fundamental 1993 agreement between the Vatican and the state of Israel, which provides for the safeguarding by the Israeli state of the freedom necessary for pastors of the Catholic Church to carry out their mission.

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