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Wednesday, 22 March, 2000, 17:49 GMT
Israeli and Arab press hail Pope

Israel is honoured by state visit from John Paul II
The Pope's visit to the Holy Land is greeted on all sides as profoundly significant, religiously and politically, but for different reasons.

One of Israel's leading dailies Haaretz sees the visit as an expression of greater international respect for the country.

It hails the Pontiff as a "popular hero venerated around the world", and adds that his unique contribution is "the interaction he has fostered between the Church and the world around it".

Israelis have warmed to the Pope for his pro-Jewish stance
The newspaper contrasts the present visit with the visit in 1964 by Pope Paul VI, who did not utter the word "Israel" once.

On this occasion "the Pope is conducting a state visit to the Jewish state replete with every symbol of pomp and protocol".

Haaretz adds that Israel's "successes have made a significant contribution to freeing the Vatican from dogmas and prejudices about Jews and Judaism.

The near culmination of the incredible journey of the Catholic Church towards the Jewish People and Israel

Jerusalem Post
"This came through with near-Biblical clarity as the Pope stood on Mount Nebo on the other side of the Jordan and looked over to the Land of Israel."

"And even if not all the expectations are met, the influence of his visit - both religious and political - will continue to make itself felt long after his momentous trip to the Holy Land," the paper concludes.

Pope looks across the Jordan valley from Mt Nebo
Speaking to the English-language Jerusalem Post Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg welcomed the Pope's recent apology for the past acts of the Church, but said the visit was more about the future.

"It can do nothing for my grandmother who perished in the Holocaust," said Mr Burg.

Instead, he expects the visit to be a "seed out of which the plants of world reconciliation between Jews and those who don't like Jews will grow".

On the first day of the Pope's visit, the Tel Aviv paper Maariv stressed the "profound interdenominational significance" of the visit.

The Pope must announce his support for the wronged and call for lifting this injustice inflicted on us by the Israelis

Sheikh Yasin in al-Quds
"John Paul's arrival at the turn of the third millennium represents an attempt at a reconciliation between Christianity, Judaism and even Islam," the paper says, adding that billions will be watching Israel, and nothing must be allowed to go wrong.

The Jerusalem Post says the Pope's arrival heralds "the near culmination of the incredible journey of the Catholic Church towards the Jewish People and Israel", but urges greater movement on the part of the Vatican.

The Pope and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in Bethlehem
"The political revolution in Vatican-Israel relations exemplified by the pope's visit should not end with the fact of the visit, but should continue with the political equivalent of a change in theology.

"Though the Vatican no longer speaks of internationalising Jerusalem, neither has it fully recognised Jerusalem as Israel's eternal capital," the paper says.

The leader of the Hamas movement, Sheikh Ahmad Yasin, agrees that the visit has both religious and political importance, but insists the Vatican must take the opportunity to back the Palestinian cause.

"We are under occupation, Jerusalem is usurped, and the settlements are built here and there. We are a besieged and dispersed people abroad and our land and country have been usurped," he tells the London-based Arabic paper al-Quds.

"The required role from the Pope is to announce his position and support for the wronged and vanquished people and to call for lifting this injustice that has been inflicted upon us by the Zionist movement and the Israelis," the shaikh says.

The visit is a boost for Arab Christians
In the English-language Jordan Times, the Jordanian commentator Rami Khouri commends the Pope for achieving "symmetry of symbolism and statement" in what many have called the political minefield of his trip.

"Visits to symbols of the very different kinds of Palestinian and Jewish historical and current suffering - the Dheisheh Palestinian refugee camp and the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial - send a clear and strong message: He gives equal time and moral empathy to the people of Israel and Palestine," Khouri writes.

The role of Arab Christians - their "spiritual link" between the Jewish and Muslim values - is also highlighted by Khouri.

"The Pope's visit clarifies the many linkages between personal human spirituality, the prophetic traditions that emanate from this blessed land of ours and the obligation to continue working for justice" not just for some nations but for all.

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20 Mar 00 | Middle East
Analysis: Pope on a tightrope
22 Mar 00 | Middle East
Pope calls for Palestinian homeland
21 Mar 00 | Middle East
Holy Land's Christians under pressure
31 Jan 00 | Middle East
Jerusalem: Eternal, intractable
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