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Pope Benedict Pays Tribute to Holocaust Victims

Pope Benedict XVI has paid tribute to the memory of six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust. The Pope visited Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial on the first day of his visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories. The pontiff has - early in the visit - touched on a number of sensitive issues that have strained relations recently between Israel's Jews and the Holy See.

Pope Benedict rekindled the eternal flame at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial's Hall of Remembrance, and laid a wreath of flowers in yellow and white - the colors of the Vatican - on the stone slab under which the ashes of Holocaust victims are buried.

"They lost their lives, but they will never lose their names,"said the pope.

The pontiff seeks reconciliation with Israeli Jews, many of whom are resentful over what some see as the Vatican's inaction as German Nazis slaughtered millions in their attempt to exterminate Jews and other minorities during the Second World War.

"As Bishop of Rome and successor of the Apostle Peter, I reaffirm, like my predecessor, that the Church is committed to praying and working tirelessly to ensure that hatred may never reign in the hearts of men again," said Benedict XVI.

The previous pope, John Paul II, went a long way to repairing ill feelings when he visited Jerusalem in 2000 and apologized for all harm that Christians have ever committed against Jews.

Pope Benedict did not visit a section of the memorial where a plaque accuses Pius XII, who was pope at the time and is now up for beatification, of not protesting the slaughter of Jews. The Vatican has countered the charge, saying Pope Pius worked quietly but courageously to save thousands.

Officials said time constraints are the reason why the Pope did not tour the museum that contains the controversial exhibit.

Relations between the Vatican and Israel have been strained in recent months over the pope's recent decision to lift the excommunication of a former Bishop in Britain who denied the severity of the Holocaust.

In Israel, Pope Benedict condemned anti-Semitism and said the Holocaust must never cease to be remembered or acknowledged. He said the suffering of the victims should never be denied, belittled, or forgotten.

Pope Benedict arrived from Jordan to begin his five-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories in what is the most delicate part of his tour of the Holy Land.

He is to go to the West Bank to celebrate Mass Wednesday in Bethlehem and meet with Palestinian leaders, including President Mahmoud Abbas.

Shortly after arriving in Jerusalem, Pope Benedict urged a two-state solution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict.

"I plead with all those responsible, to explore every possible avenue in the search for a just resolution of the outstanding difficulties, so that both peoples may live in peace in a homeland of their own within secure and internationally recognized borders," he said.

The call puts the pope at odds with the administration of new Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who does not favor working toward Palestinian statehood.