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Pope: 'Unprecedented Violence' in Middle East - 2001-08-02

Pope John Paul says the Middle East has reached a point of "unheard of" violence. The pontiff expressed his concern after a meeting Thursday outside Rome with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

The unprecedented violence between Israel and the Palestinians must end and both sides must return to the negotiating table. Those were the comments of Pope John Paul following his meeting with Mr. Arafat.

Italy is the latest stop in Mr. Arafat's campaign to gain support for his proposal to have international monitors sent to the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Mr. Arafat was given a 25-minute private audience at the pope's summer residence southeast of Rome.

Afterward, a statement issued at the Vatican said the pope expressed his concern and anguish over what he called the "unprecedented violence between Israel and the Palestinians" and the growing numbers of victims. The statement said the pope appealed for a complete cessation of bloodletting so that peace talks could resume.

There was, however, no mention of papal support for international monitors in the Palestinian territories, something Israel opposes.

Earlier Thursday Mr. Arafat met with Italian leaders in Rome and warned violence in the Middle East could spiral out of control and have repercussions beyond the region if international force is not deployed. He also accused Israel of planning to assassinate Palestinian activists.

Israel has said it will continue its policy of attacking Palestinian militants it considers a threat to Israeli security.