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Pope, Netanyahu talk Middle East peace

Francis meets with Israeli leader at Vatican, exchanges gifts

02 December, 18:37
Pope, Netanyahu talk Middle East peace (By Sandra Cordon) (ANSA) - Vatican City, December 2 - Peace in the Middle East "as soon as possible" was high on the agenda during a meeting Monday between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Pope Francis inside the Vatican.

During their 25-minute meeting, Netanyahu presented the pope with the Spanish translation of a book about the Inquisition which had been written by his father, the Vatican press office reported. "The Origins of the Inquisition in Fifteenth Century Spain," published in 1995, was written by Benzion Netanyahu an Israeli historian who died last year.

Inside, the Israeli prime minister had inscribed: "To His Holiness Pope Francis, the great guardian of our common heritage," according to the press office communiqué.

He also presented the pope with a silver menorah, the candle-holder used in the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, while Francis responded with the presentation of a gift of a bronze bas-relief depicting St. Paul. During their session in the Apostolic Palace, the two men focused on "the complex political and social situation" in the region with particular attention to the "resumption of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, in the hope that we can reach as soon as possible a just and lasting solution, while respecting the rights of both parties," according to the Vatican.

As well, they discussed a visit to Israel next year planned by the pope as well as a "number of issues concerning relations between the State authorities and the local Catholic communities, and between the State of Israel and the Holy See, with the hope of a prompt conclusion of an agreement (that has been) a long time in preparation".

The meeting also included an interpreter, Netanyahu's wife Sara, and a small entourage.

The Vatican has not confirmed the dates of the pope's visit to the Holy Land but Israelis sources last week said it would occur on May 25-26, 2014. The topic has been on the Vatican agenda for some time.

During a meeting in April, Israeli President Shimon Peres invited Pope Francis to Jerusalem.

Pope Francis has frequently called for peace among warring countries, including in the Middle East.

In his Easter message earlier this year, the pope called specifically for: "Peace for the Middle East, and particularly between Israelis and Palestinians, who struggle to find the road of agreement, that they may willingly and courageously resume negotiations to end a conflict that has lasted all too long".

Netanyahu arrived on Sunday for a two-day visit to Rome, where he met with Italian Premier Enrico Letta.

The Israeli leader also visited the Great Synagogue of Rome where he took part in the lighting of the menorah for Hanukkah.

At that event, Letta said that the economic crisis that has fed into Italy's worst recession in 20 years has contributed to "the forces of extremism, hatred and intolerance" in the country.

But he pledged that the Italian government will fight "the forces of violence, first verbal then physical, (as well as) intolerance, xenophobia and racism".

Later, a dozen deals on matters ranging from public security to energy, water and education between Italy and Israel were signed Monday by Letta and Netanyahu.