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Israeli President Invites Pope Benedict to Visit Israel

  • Sabina Castelfranco

Israeli President Moshe Katsav has invited Pope Benedict to visit Israel. The Israeli leader extended the invitation during a meeting at the Vatican Thursday. The Israeli leader has been in Italy meeting with Italian officials and members of the Jewish community in Rome.

Israeli President Moshe Katsav, accompanied by his wife Gila, spent 25 minutes in private talks with Pope Benedict in his library. Talks focused on the situation in the Holy Land and the agreements signed by Israel and the Holy See, following the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1993.

A spokesman said the Vatican's position, in favor of the existence and collaboration between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, was reiterated to the Israeli leader.

During the meeting, the Israeli president invited the Pope to visit Israel, an invitation that was previously extended to Pope Benedict in a letter sent to him by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in July.

The late Pope John Paul II visited Israel in 2000. After his election in April of this year, Pope Benedict said he would continue along the path of his predecessor in efforts to strengthen relations between Catholics and Jews.

The Israeli head of state is on a three-day official visit to Italy. He has met with the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, with opposition leaders and members of Rome's Jewish community, including some who were wounded in a 1982 bomb attack.

During a two-hour meeting with Mr. Berlusconi, the Israeli president discussed the need for the Palestinian Authority to do more to fight the militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

After talks with the Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi Tuesday, Mr. Katsav said that after Israel's pullout from Gaza, al Qaida cells have penetrated the area.

Mr. Ciampi praised Israel's withdrawal and called for stability and peace in the area.

"The search for peace cannot be an indefinite process, but must lead to a tangible result soon," Mr. Ciampi said. "Two states, Israel and Palestine, must be able to live in peace and security, within recognized and respected borders."

The Italian president also urged the Palestinian Authority to fight against terrorism and Israel to cease any settlement activity and facilitate freedom of movement for the Palestinians in the territories.