BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: World: Middle East
Front Page 
Middle East 
South Asia 
From Our Own Correspondent 
Letter From America 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

The BBC's David Willey in Damascus
"The Pope can claim a considerable personal success"
 real 28k

Head of Greek Orthodox church, Metropolitan Saba
"We want the whole world to see this destroyed city"
 real 28k

The BBC's Fergus Nicoll
"This is still bitterly contested land"
 real 56k

The BBC's Brian Hanrahan
"The Pope emphasised reconciliation and the end to division"
 real 56k

Monday, 7 May, 2001, 23:26 GMT 00:26 UK
Pope visits Golan Heights
Pope John Paul visits Quneitra
The pope was greeted by cheering crowds in Quneitra
Pope John Paul II has wound up a politically sensitive three-day visit to Syria, after visiting a ruined town in the Golan Heights.

The pontiff led prayers at an abandoned church in the Syrian-held ghost town of Quneitra, calling upon the peoples of the Middle East to "tear down the walls of hostility and division".

From this place, so disfigured by war, I wish to raise my heart and voice in prayer for peace in the Holy Land

Pope John Paul II
He also offered special prayers for the latest victims of the Israeli-Palestinian violence in the Gaza Strip.

Syrian officials were eager to show the Pope the town, 65km (40 miles) south of Damascus, which was destroyed by the Israelis before being handed back to Syria in 1974.

Syria has deliberately left Quneitra in ruins as a memorial to what it calls Israel's barbaric behaviour.

Thousands of former Quneitra residents were bussed in for the Pope's visit, during which he also planted an olive tree as a symbol of peace.

Correspondents say the visit once again plunged the Pope into an explosive political arena, reviving memories of his visit to Israel last year, when he saw the situation from the other side of the Golan.


The BBC's David Willey says that, while the pontiff is likely to be well aware of the propaganda value to Syria of the Quneitra visit, he believes the town to be a fitting place to underline his calls for Middle East peace.

Pope arrives in Quneitra
Quneitra visit: Propaganda coup
The pontiff has persisted with his calls for a renunciation of violence amidst a barrage of insults being hurled between Syria and Israel.

As the Pope arrived in Syria, President Bashar al-Assad made a impassioned speech labelling Israelis as "the betrayers of Jesus".

The verbal onslaught continued on Monday, with Syria accusing the Israelis of a long history of crimes against Palestinians and against sites sacred to Muslims and Christians.

"The contemporary Zionists are the same as those Jews who were fought by Jesus Christ who in turn uncovered their hypocrisy and crimes," read a front-page editorial in the government daily Tishreen newspaper.

On Sunday, Israel's President Moshe Katsav called on the pope to reject such sentiments, calling them "racist" and "anti-semitic".

Historic visit

The Pope made history on Sunday by becoming the first Roman Catholic pontiff to set foot in a mosque, where he prayed for peace in the Middle East.

Christian Syrians greet Pope John Paul II on his arrival in Damascus
The Pope has received an enthusiastic welcome in Syria
In an address at the Umayyad mosque, he said Muslims and Christians should "offer each other forgiveness" for all the times they "have offended one another".

A plan to offer joint Muslim-Christian prayers was dropped, apparently for fear of wounding Muslim sensitivities.

But our correspondent says that at the end of his visit to Syria, the Pope can claim a considerable personal success in the warm welcome he received not only from the small Catholic community, but also from Christians of all the other various denominations present in the country.

The Pope travels on Tuesday to the Mediterranean island of Malta, where more than 90% of the population is Catholic.

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
See also:

07 May 01 | Middle East
Mosque visit crowns Pope's tour
05 Jan 00 | Middle East
The Golan: Territory and security
06 May 01 | Middle East
Inside the Umayyad mosque
05 May 01 | Middle East
Syria plea for Pope support
05 May 01 | Europe
In pictures: Pope in Syria
29 Mar 01 | World
Pope reaches out to Islam
20 Jul 00 | Country profiles
Country profile: Syria
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Middle East stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Middle East stories