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Top Jerusalem Catholic Cleric Urges End of Conflict - 2003-12-23

The senior Roman Catholic clergyman in Jerusalem has made a pre-Christmas appeal to Israelis and Palestinians to make peace and end the suffering of both peoples.

The Latin Patriarch of the Holy Land, Michel Sabbah, says God wants Israelis and Palestinians to act not as adversaries but rather as brothers and sisters.

The archbishop, who is a Palestinian, told his annual news conference at his headquarters in Jerusalem's walled Old City that this is the true meaning of Christmas.

"The Christmas message is first of all a message of hope and spiritual strength that opposes all material strength," he said. "It is a message of hope and spiritual strength despite all the obstacles that rise up in the way of peace."

Archbishop Sabbah says the key to ending to the conflict is for the two sides to negotiate a settlement under a land for peace formula.

"Truly nobody, neither Israeli nor Palestinian, wants war and bloodshed," he added. "Israelis are in search of their security, and Palestinians are in search of their land and liberty."

Archbishop Sabbah says the way for Israelis to win the hearts of Palestinians is to stop building a security barrier in the West Bank.

Israel says the barrier is necessary to prevent Palestinians from crossing into the Jewish State to carry out terror attacks.

But the Archbishop says the project is driving the two sides further away from peace.

He says that only a full Israeli military withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza Strip will win the support of the Palestinians.

But he says this should be done in the framework of a peace treaty and for this reason he opposes Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon's plan to unilaterally cut his people off from the Palestinians.

"Peace should come from both sides," said Archbishop Sabbah. "One cannot hide himself from his adversary if there is an adversary. So both parties should make peace and build peace together. One cannot make peace alone."

Archbishop Sabbah is expected to expand on these themes when he conducts a midnight mass for Christmas at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem Wednesday night.

The sanctuary is built over the cave where tradition says Jesus was born.