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Abbas meets with Pope Francis, inaugurates Palestinian embassy at the Vatican

Jan. 14, 2017 5:29 P.M. (Updated: Jan. 15, 2017 9:23 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas inaugurated the Palestinian embassy at the Vatican on Saturday and met with Pope Francis, when the two discussed an international peace conference set to launch in Paris on Sunday, when world leaders are expected to renew efforts to resolve the decades-old Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

“We are very grateful for the role that the Holy See has played for a just and lasting peace in the Holy Land, and for having opened an embassy of Palestine in the Vatican for first time. We are proud to be the birthplace of Christianity and of having one of the oldest Christian communities in the world,” Abbas said in a statement after the visit.

During their meeting, Abbas presented Pope Francis with replicas of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem and the Nativity Church in Bethlehem, along with "a book on the historic relations between Palestine and the Vatican and a painting by a Palestinian-Armenian artist of the Cremisan Valley and the separation wall in Bethlehem,” according to state-run news agency Wafa.

Pope Francis, in return gave Abbas a book covering the “history of the Holy See” and a “medal titled ‘Mercy.’”

The meeting between Abbas and Pope Francis focused on the situation in Palestine and the Vatican, and what has ensued since the Vatican’s recognition of Palestine in 2015.

Abbas also used the occasion to call on the rest of the world to recognize the state of Palestine, before raising the Palestinian flag at the headquarters of the new Palestinian embassy at the finish of the inauguration ceremony.

“Tomorrow, over 70 countries will meet in Paris in order to discuss how to bring peace to our region, the holy land,” Abbas said in his statement, adding that “we call upon the participants to take concrete measures in order to implement international law and UN resolutions.”

“It is long overdue for the Palestinian people to exercise their basic right to live in freedom and dignity.”

The Palestinian president also said he discussed with Pope Francis the issue of Jerusalem, as “the Israeli government continues its policies aimed at turning Jerusalem into an exclusive Jewish-Israeli city, demolishing Palestinian homes, expanding illegal settlements, building an illegal annexation wall, dividing families, and isolating our occupied capital from the rest of Palestine,” Abbas said.

He added that “any attempts at legitimizing the illegal Israeli annexation of the city will destroy the prospects of any political process, bury the hopes for a two-state solution, and fuel extremism in our region, as well as worldwide,” amid threats by US President-Elect Donald Trump to move the US embassy to Israel from the Israeli city of Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

“In this moment, we extend our hand to President-Elect Trump for his cooperation to make peace based on international law,” the statement concluded.

Meanwhile, Ambassador of Palestine to the Holy See, Issa Kassissiyeh said following the meetings and the inauguration ceremony that the relations with the Holy See were a “priority in our foreign policy.”

“Just as we raised our flags together in the United Nations, we hope that we will be able to take more steps that can bring us closer to a just and lasting peace in Jerusalem and the rest of the State of Palestine,” he said.

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