Pope visits Al-Aqsa, calls for end of Israeli occupation- UPDATED

Pope Francis said that Israel has the right to existence and the Palestinians have the right to a homeland.

Pope visits Al-Aqsa, calls for end of Israeli occupation- UPDATED

World Bulletin / News Desk

Pope Francis on Monday visited the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Al-Quds (occupied East Jerusalem).

The pontiff was welcomed by Prince Ghazi bin Mohamed, the Jordanian king’s personal representative and special adviser on religious matters, whose country is overseeing all Muslim and Christian religious sites in Al-Quds since the 1950s.

A host of Palestinian dignitaries, topped by Al-Quds Mufti Sheikh Mohamed Hussein, were also on hand.

The pope toured the Dome of the Rock Mosque with Prince Ghazi giving a presentation, according to an Anadolu Agency reporter.

Israeli authorities prevented Muslim worshippers from performing the Fajr (dawn) prayer at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Al-Quds (occupied East Jerusalem), a few hours before the visit.

"Israeli policemen started collecting the identity cards of worshippers inside the mosque since Sunday's noon to make sure they leave after prayer," a security guard, who asked not to be named, told Anadolu Agency.

"Today, they did not allow anybody into the mosque compound," he added.

In his first Middle East tour since his anointment in 2013, Pope Francis held a historic prayer service with the Orthodox Patriarch in Jerusalem on Sunday.

This was the first reunion between the leaders of the two Christian sects in fifty years.

Pope Francis flew to the West Bank city of Bethlehem from Jordan on Sunday where he met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and presided over a mass in the Church of Nativity.

He has invited Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres to visit the Vatican and join him in praying for peace.

Israel should 'exit'

Pope Francis on Sunday said that Israel has the right to existence and the Palestinians have the right to a homeland.

"The right of the State of Israel to exist and to flourish in peace and security within internationally recognized borders must be universally recognized," Pope Francis said after arrival at Israel's Ben-Gurion Airport.

"At the same time, there must also be recognition of the right of the Palestinian people to a sovereign homeland and their right to live with dignity and with freedom of movement," he added.

"The two-state solution must become reality and not remain merely a dream," said the pontiff who was welcomed at the airport by Israeli Premier Bemjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres.

Pope Francis lamented that Al-Quds (occupied East Jerusalem) remains in the heart of a continuing conflict.

"Jerusalem, of course, means 'city of peace.' This is what God wills it to be, and such is the desire of all people of good will," he said.

"Yet sadly Jerusalem remains deeply troubled as a result of longstanding conflicts," added the pontiff.

Holocost

Pope Francis, at the request of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, visited on Monday Israel's "Memorial to the Victims of Terror", a day after praying at an Israeli security wall abhorred by Palestinians.

The impromptu visit to the monument appeared to be an attempt to appease his Israeli hosts following the surprise stop at the hulking concrete barrier, daubed with anti-Israeli graffiti, which separates Bethlehem and Jerusalem.

Afterwards, he went to pray at the adjacent Western Wall, one the Jews' most revered shrines and a sole remnant of their sacred Second Temple, destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.

Like many visitors, he tucked a small written message between the ancient stones before walking away. The content was not immediately revealed.

In a decision that delighted his hosts, Francis later laid a wreath at the tomb of Theodor Herzl, who is seen as the founder of modern Zionism that led to Israel's foundation.

The Catholic Church initially opposed the creation of a Jewish state, and the three other pontiffs who have come to Jerusalem over the past 50 years did not visit the site.

The pope then visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum which commemorates some 6 million Jews slaughtered during World War Two, kissing the hands of survivors in a sombre chamber of remembrance lit by a memorial flame.

Speaking minutes after landing in Israel on Sunday, Francis called the Holocaust "an enduring symbol of the depths to which human evil can sink", adding: "I beg God that there will never be another such crime."

Religion plays a high profile role in Monday's packed timetable, with the pope due to celebrate Mass in the Cenacle - a room just outside the walls of the Old City where Christians believe Jesus held the Last Supper with his disciples.

It is located on the second floor of an old stone building, above a cavern where some Jews believe King David is buried.

Speculation that Israeli officials were set to hand the Cenacle over to the Church has sparked protests by Jewish nationalists. Police arrested 26 people at a rowdy demonstration early on Sunday ahead of the pope's visit.

Israel denies it plans to relinquish control of the site.

Some 8,000 police are on hand to guarantee the pope's security following recent vandalism of church property blamed on Jewish extremists. Roads will be closed and shopkeepers in parts of the Old City have complained of being forced to shutter their stores all day to keep the stone streets empty.

Last Mod: 26 Mayıs 2014, 10:53
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