VATICAN CITY — King Hussein of Jordan on Monday carried the Arab world's view of Middle East problems to Pope John Paul II, and the Vatican expressed its concern over the rights of the Palestinian people as "a question of international justice."
Hussein, who is on a trip through Europe to seek support for an international Middle East peace conference, an idea opposed by Israel, also discussed the status of Jerusalem, terror in Lebanon and the Iran-Iraq War in a cordial, 30-minute private conversation with the Pope, the Vatican said.
Although Hussein's visit to the Pope, his fourth, was conceived before the recent eruptions in the Israeli-occupied territories, the violence figured prominently in Monday's talks.
2 More Palestinians Die
Two more Palestinians were reported killed by Israeli gunfire in the occupied territories Monday, bringing to 38 the total number of fatalities since Dec. 9.
The king, the Vatican said in a statement, "naturally expressed his great preoccupation"with the occupied territories, where "recent dramatic developments confirm the urgent need" for solution of the Palestinian problem.
"The Holy See considers the problem of the Palestinian people a question of international justice, no less than that of the existence and security of Israel and of all states in the region," the statement went on, reiterating previous papal pronouncements. John Paul told foreign newsmen in Rome last month that the Vatican supports the right of both Jews and Palestinians to a homeland.
As for Jerusalem, the Vatican reasserted its oft-expressed view that the city ought to be considered "spiritual patrimony" of Christians, Jews and Muslims, and it stressed again its "reservations" about Israeli annexation of formerly Jordanian-controlled East Jerusalem after the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.
After further meetings with Italian leaders, Hussein will travel on to Paris, Madrid, Bonn and Vienna. On Friday, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt will visit the Pope to further emphasize Arab concerns.
On Monday, Mubarak sent a message to Hussein via Egyptian Foreign Minister Esmat Abdel Meguid, who traveled to Rome from Paris, where Mubarak is on a visit.
Meguid said the message dealt with the peace process, but he would not disclose its contents.
Meanwhile, Hussein's government responded cautiously to reports of a new U.S. peace initiative on the Middle East, and Syrian officials were uniformly negative, wire services reported.
The U.S. proposal reportedly involves limited self-rule for the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with talks on the territories' final status to begin within a year among Israel, Jordan, Egypt and Palestinian representatives.
Marwan Doudin, Jordan's minister of occupied territories, said the U.S. proposal, as reported in the news media, falls short of Arab demands for a U.N.-sponsored international peace conference.
"I have seen nothing in writing, but if we take the report seriously, it doesn't compare well with the Arab consensus," Doudin said.
In a clear reference to the U.S. proposal, a Syrian government statement in Damascus criticized what it called maneuvers aimed at aborting the Palestinian uprising in the occupied territories.