Israelis and Palestinians are united in mourning the pope. They're hailing his efforts to achieve reconciliation and peace in the Holy Land.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon opened the weekly Cabinet meeting with a tribute to the pope, describing him as a man of peace and a friend of the Jewish people.

"Pope John Paul the Second worked for a historic reconciliation between the Jewish people and the Catholic Church," Mr. Sharon said, adding that the pope also established diplomatic ties between the Vatican and the state of Israel. The prime minister said, "The world has lost one of the most important leaders of our time."

Ehud Barak was prime minister when the pope made his historic pilgrimage to the Holy Land five years ago.

"The world lost a great spiritual leader and a great human being," said Mr. Barak.

During that pilgrimage, the pope asked the Jews for forgiveness for centuries of persecution by the Roman Catholic Church. The pope also made a lasting impression on Palestinians during that visit, when he spoke of their suffering, and called for the creation of a Palestinian state.

"He come, visiting here, try to making peace between all the groups of the Holy Land," told Mohammed Kamal Hassan, a Palestinian Muslim, to VOA.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas described John Paul as a great religious figure who devoted his life to peace, freedom, and justice, and defended the Palestinian right to independence.