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Page last updated at 19:36 GMT, Thursday, 14 May 2009 20:36 UK

Netanyahu 'asked Pope to condemn Iran'

The Pope (left) meets Benjamin Netanyahu in Nazareth, 14 May
The two men also met briefly at the start of the Pope's visit

Israel's right-wing new Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, says he has asked Pope Benedict to condemn Iranian threats to destroy his country.

He said he had asked the Pope in Nazareth to speak out against Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has called for Israel's destruction.

Mr Netanyahu gave details of their conversation to Israeli TV.

He was also quoted by press as saying Israel did not want a Palestinian state which might jeopardise its security.

Pope Benedict has repeatedly called for a separate Palestinian state during his tour of the Holy Land, most vocally when he met Palestinian refugees on Wednesday in Bethlehem.

Mr Netanyahu has not committed himself to the principle of two states, which past Israeli leaders have accepted.

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev Federico Lombardi, said only that Thursday's talks had "centred on how the peace process can be advanced".

The Pope said the last and largest open-air Mass of his visit in Nazareth, recorded in the Bible as the childhood home of Jesus Christ.

He later said a more intimate Mass at the Church of the Annunciation.

'Make your voice loud'

"I asked him, as a moral figure, to make his voice heard loud and continuously against the declarations coming from Iran of their intention to destroy Israel," Mr Netanyahu said on TV.

POPE IN THE MIDDLE EAST
Monday Arrives in Israel, meets President Shimon Peres
Tuesday Visits the Dome of the Rock and the Western Wall. Celebrates Holy Mass in Josaphat Valley
Wednesday Visits Bethlehem, visits refugees, meets Mahmoud Abbas
Thursday Mass in Nazareth, talks with Benjamin Netanyahu, meets Franciscans
Friday Meets Orthodox Christian leaders, departs

"I told him it cannot be that at the beginning of the 21st Century there is a state which says it is going to destroy the Jewish state, there is no aggressive voice being heard condemning this."

Israel's prime minister said he was pleased with the Pope's response: "He said that he condemns all instances of anti-Semitism and hate against the state of Israel - against humanity as a whole, but in this case against Israel."

Mr Netanyahu reportedly added that Israel wanted peace with the Palestinians but "only the kind of peace that brings security".

"We don't want to dominate another people, but we also don't want a terror state backed by Iran to rise alongside us and jeopardize Israel's safety," he was quoted as saying by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

Mr Netanyahu's election this year was ill-received in the Arab world because of his hard-line views, including his opposition to returning land captured in wars.

Mr Netanyahu is due in Washington on 18 May for what are being seen as crucial talks with President Barack Obama.

'Legitimate aspirations'

In Bethlehem on Wednesday, the Pope delivered what correspondents say was one of his strongest expressions of support for the Palestinians, offering his backing for Palestinians' right to a "homeland".

The Pope celebrates Mass in Nazareth

He told Palestinian refugees his heart went out to families divided by detention and restrictions on freedom of movement, a reference to Israeli military control of the West Bank.

"It is understandable that you often feel frustrated," the pontiff said.

"Your legitimate aspirations for permanent homes, for an independent Palestinian state, remain unfulfilled."

In his homily at the open-air Mass, the Pope preached against prejudice and hatred "which kills men's souls before it kills their bodies".

At least 40,000 Christians, among them many Arabs, attended the service in the northern Israeli town.

Neither the oppressive morning heat nor heavy-handed security measures could stifle the enthusiasm of the faithful, the BBC's Katya Adler reports.

The Pope focussed on conservative family values, saying: "[Through] the example of Mary, Joseph and Jesus we come to appreciate even more fully the sacredness of the family which in God's plan is based on the lifelong fidelity of a man and a woman."

The traditional tone came in stark contrast to some of the Pope's speeches this week where he openly mixed prayer with politics, our correspondent says.

His attempts to smooth his strained relations with the Muslim and the Jewish communities may not have been entirely successfully but it leaves behind an impression of a player on the world stage, she adds.



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