Pope Benedict urges Mid-East sides to reach peace

Pope Benedict XVI (24 October 2010) The Pope is making efforts to address the fortunes of Christians in the Muslim world

Pope Benedict XVI has urged Israelis and Palestinians to push for peace in the Middle East and not to give up hope of a settlement.

He spoke at the Vatican at the end of a two-week meeting of Catholic bishops from around the world.

Peace would be the best way to stem the emigration of Christians from the Middle East, the Pope said.

Separately, Israel's prime minister has called on Palestinians not pursue independence without peace talks.

Frustrated that direct talks with Israel have stalled over the issue of Jewish settlement construction, Palestinians have suggested they could ask the United Nations to recognise an independent state beyond the Green Line - territories occupied by Israel since the 1967 Middle East war.

Speaking before the start of Israel's weekly cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said face-to-face talks were the best option.

"I think any attempt to circumvent it by going to international bodies isn't realistic and won't advance true peacemaking in any way. Peace will be achieved only through direct talks."

In Rome, Pope Benedict used clear language in his Sunday homily: "Peace is possible. Peace is urgent.

"Peace is also the best remedy to avoid the emigration from the Middle East."

His words came after a declaration by the conference that said the international community should take "the necessary legal steps to put an end to the occupation of the different Arab territories".

Palestinians seized on the declaration as evidence of the "moral and legal" justification for an independent Palestinian state.

"We join the synod in their call to the international community to uphold the universal values of freedom, dignity and justice," chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said.

He said Christians were "an integral part" of the Palestinian people and blamed Israel for their emigration from the region, AFP news agency reported.

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