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Pope Urges End to 'Vendettas' in Middle East

April 08, 2002|From Reuters

VATICAN CITY — Pope John Paul II, leading world prayers for peace in the Middle East, urged Palestinians and Israelis on Sunday to free themselves from the "thirst for vendetta" and return to the negotiating table.

The pope made his appeal as details emerged of a proposal by Vatican diplomats in the Holy Land to end a standoff at Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, revered as Jesus' birthplace.

"When all around us the cruel logic of weapons dominates, only God can lead hearts to thoughts of peace," the frail, 81-year-old pope said from his window overlooking St. Peter's Square.

Thousands of people marched to the square after attending Mass in Rome churches, where they took up John Paul's call to make Sunday a day of prayer for peace in the Holy Land in churches around the world.

"Only [God] can provide the energy that is so necessary to free oneself from hate and the thirst for vendetta," the pope said.

Palestinian gunmen and civilians took refuge in the Bethlehem church Tuesday, and about 140 have remained holed up inside, along with dozens of monks and priests and a few nuns. Israeli troops ring the complex.

Vatican sources said Saturday that Vatican diplomats and church officials in the Holy Land had put forward a proposal to Israelis and Palestinians to end the Bethlehem standoff. Under the proposal, the Palestinians in the basilica would be given safe passage to the Gaza Strip, leaving their weapons behind.

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