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Hilary Andersson reports from Jerusalem
"The Israeli foreign ministry has expressed its outrage at the agreement"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 16 February, 2000, 14:18 GMT
Israel protests at Vatican deal

Yassar Arafat and Pope John Paul II Yassar Arafat discussed the peace process with the Pope

Israel has protested to the Vatican envoy about an agreement signed between Rome and the head of the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat.

There is no reference to the political situation of Jerusalem in the document.
Papal envoy Monsignor Petro Sambi
Israel has accused the Vatican of having interfered in peace talks with the Palestinians by cautioning Israel in the agreement against undertaking unilateral decisions affecting Jerusalem.

But Papal envoy Monsignor Petro Sambi said Israel had misinterpreted the accord.

"There can be different interpretations of a gesture over a document and in this case, the best is to clarify so to arrive at a mutual understanding," Monsignor Sambi said after meeting Israeli Foreign Ministry Director-General Eytan Bentsur.

The agreement describes Israeli "unilateral decisions" over Arab East Jerusalem as "morally and legally unacceptable", in an apparent reference to Israeli rule over the city.

But the Papal envoy said: "There is no reference to the political situation of Jerusalem in the document."

"There is only reference to the religious aspect of Jerusalem, sacred to three monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam," Monsignor Sambi said.

Vatican interests

Pope John Paul II and Mr Arafat discussed Middle East peacemaking in Rome on Tuesday while their delegations signed the agreement containing 12 articles dealing mostly with the Vatican's interests in Palestinian-ruled areas.

The Palestinian Authority's General Director Ahmed Abdel-Rahman attacked Israel's protest of the accord as "a denial of Israel's peace deals with the PLO".

He said Israeli declarations that East Jerusalem would remain part of Israel's capital constituted a flagrant violation of signed peace deals, adding that the claims were bereft of all international recognition.

Israel has always maintained that no international mandate is needed because it guarantees the city's special nature as sacred to the three great monotheistic religions.

Both Israel and the Palestinians believe they should control East Jerusalem.

Israel says the entire city should become its capital, while the Palestinians hope to have East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state.

The Vatican-Palestinian agreement comes ahead of a papal trip to the region from 21-26 March, which will take in Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories.

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See also:
15 Feb 00 |  Middle East
Palestinians sign Catholic deal
31 Jan 00 |  Middle East
Analysis: Solving the Jerusalem problem
17 Nov 99 |  Middle East
Pope's Holy Land trip confirmed
24 Nov 99 |  Middle East
Israel condemns Vatican in mosque row

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