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Peres, Abbas to pray for peace at Vatican on June 8

May 29, 2014 9:18 P.M. (Updated: May 31, 2014 10:22 P.M.)
VATICAN CITY (AFP) -- Israeli President Shimon Peres and his Palestinian counterpart Mahmud Abbas will pray for peace at the Vatican on June 8, the Holy See said Thursday.

Pope Francis had invited the pair to his home for a "heartfelt prayer" for peace during his three-day trip to the region, and the meeting "will take place on June 8, during the afternoon," a date "accepted by both parties," the Vatican said in a note.

Despite expectations Francis would steer clear of the thorny politics of the intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict during his trip, the Argentine pontiff extended a personal invitation to the two men at the end of a mass in Bethlehem on Sunday.

"I offer my home in the Vatican as a place for this encounter of prayer ... to join me in heartfelt prayer to God for the gift of peace," he said.

"Building peace is difficult, but living without peace is a constant torment," he added.

The invitation came after Pope Francis prayed beside the Israeli separation wall as it cuts through northern Bethlehem, part of an unexpected stop that raised the ire of Israeli officials.

Last month, US-led peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators collapsed in bitter recriminations, after Israel refused to stop constructing Jewish-only settlements on Palestinian land and would not release veteran Palestinian prisoners are originally agreed.

That ended a nine-month US-led bid to reach a solution and left no political initiative on the horizon.

The meeting between the two leaders and the pope had to be scheduled to take place before the 90-year-old Israeli president retires at the end of July.

"The meeting in the Vatican is to pray together, it's not a mediation," the pope said during the return flight to Rome.

"It is a prayer without discussions," said the pontiff, who has made interfaith dialogue a cornerstone of his 14-month-old papacy.

Peres is known for his close relationship with Abbas and has frequently pushed for a peaceful resolution of the decades-long conflict.

Earlier this month, he told an Israeli television channel that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had blocked a peace agreement he had secretly negotiated in Jordan with Abbas in 2011.

Ma'an staff contributed to this report.
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