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Sunday, 7 April, 2002, 13:34 GMT 14:34 UK
Pope calls for Mid-East peace
Pope John Paul II
The Pope prayed for those besieged in Bethlehem
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By David Willey
BBC Rome correspondent

The Pope has called on all Christians to pray for peace in the Middle East this Sunday.

Speaking to pilgrims in St Peter's Square he said the continued fighting in the Holy Land is particularly worrying to Christians.

He prayed that both Israelis and Palestinians may be freed from hate.

Before giving his customary midday blessing, he offered his own prayers for both Catholic and Orthodox monks and nuns trapped in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem for the past six days.

Israeli troops are besieging the church where some 200 armed Palestinians have taken refuge.

Respect for life

The Pope prayed that both Israelis and Palestinians might be freed from the thirst for vendetta, and would return to peace negotiations.

The Pope told both sides in the conflict to remember that they believe in the same God.

A priest trapped in a church near the Church of the Nativity
The stand-off began on Tuesday after fierce fighting in Bethlehem
He said peace is the gift of God, who has written the law of respect for human life in people's hearts.

The Vatican's official spokesman has said there is no special peace plan being put forward by the Holy See to try to resolve the dramatic situation in and around the Church of the Nativity.

This church marks the place in Bethlehem where Jesus Christ is believed to have been born, and is one of the holiest shrines in Christendom.

The Vatican's chief diplomat in Jerusalem, Monsignor Pietro Sambi, is continuing his work of helping those who are suffering, the spokesman said.

But the Vatican is putting its faith in the implementation of existing resolutions of the United Nations Security Council, rather than in pursuing any new diplomatic initiative of its own.

See also:

04 Apr 02 | Middle East
No let-up in Bethlehem siege
01 Apr 02 | Europe
The Pope's peace adviser
25 Sep 01 | Europe
Pope's speech raises health fears
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