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Rabin Asks Pope to Aid Peace Process; Arafat Holds Fast : Mideast: Israeli leader calls mosque massacre 'shameful' in talk with pontiff. PLO chairman insists on international protection for Palestinians.


VATICAN CITY — Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on Thursday asked Pope John Paul II to help win peace in the Middle East, but Yasser Arafat, the Palestine Liberation Organization chairman, told a papal envoy that the talks could not resume without international protection for Palestinians.

About the same time Rabin met the Pope here Thursday morning, Arafat spoke with Archbishop Jean Louis Tauran, the Vatican's foreign minister, at PLO headquarters in Tunis, Tunisia.

Like the United States, the Vatican wants to see resumption of talks, suspended after an Israeli settler massacred about 30 Palestinians in a Hebron mosque on Feb. 25. After meeting with Rabin on Wednesday in Washington, President Clinton appealed to Arafat to resume negotiations to avoid allowing extremists to short-circuit the historic process.

The Palestinian leader, though, made plain to reporters after conferring with the senior Vatican diplomat that he was adamant.

"What is required now is that the United States, the two co-sponsors of the Middle East peace process and the Security Council respond to the just demands of the Palestinians to provide international protection to our children, our women and our holy places," the Associated Press quoted Arafat as saying in Tunis. "Our people have the right to know the council's opinion on the terrible massacre committed in the holy mosque. I need a clear answer to our demands."

The United States, Arafat said, must allow the Security Council to vote on a resolution on the Hebron massacre.

The State Department says the United States will not impede a vote, if the PLO returns unconditionally to the talks.

The Vatican, which maintains embassies in more than 100 countries, including most Arab states, has raised its profile in the Middle East since agreeing with Israel in December to establish diplomatic relations.

En route home from Washington, Rabin briefed the Pope on his talks with Clinton.

"At a time of crisis in the (peace) talks . . . my request to the Pope is essentially that he will give moral, religious support to a solution in the way of peace, in the way of negotiations," Rabin told reporters afterward.

He said he asked John Paul to use his "influence on hundreds of millions (of his followers) to support the peace process and to influence elements in the Arab world to return to the talks."

An amicable half-hour meeting at the Vatican included renewal of a longstanding Israeli invitation to the pontiff to visit the Holy Land.

"The Pope accepted the invitation, and said he hoped that circumstances will permit him to make this desired visit," papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro said afterward.

As reporters entered the room at the end of the private meeting in the papal apartments, John Paul was reiterating an oft-expressed wish to Rabin: "I hope to be able to visit Jerusalem. . . . I hope, I hope." No date is yet in prospect for the trip.

Leaving the audience, Rabin promised the Pope: "I will make every effort to bring peace and prosperity to the Holy Land."

Navarro said Rabin described the mosque massacre as "shameful" in his talk with John Paul.

"I am uncomfortable that for almost three weeks, 100,000 residents of Hebron are under curfew because of 415 Jews," Rabin told reporters.

His government has banned two Jewish extremist groups, and Rabin said further action might be forthcoming against what he called "insane and extreme elements" among Jewish settlers in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

"We have taken steps, and more steps will be taken," he said.

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