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Peace-broker Pope

Sarah Griffiths By Sarah Griffiths | May 25, 2014 | Palestinian Territory

Jubilant Palestinians cheered Francis as he arrived in Bethlehem's Manger Square, shouting "Viva al-Baba!" or "Long live the Pope!". Giant Palestinian flags in red, white, green and black and the Vatican's yellow-and-white flags decorated the square.

 “In this, the birthplace of the Prince of Peace, I wish to invite you, President Mahmoud Abbas, together with President Shimon Peres, to join me in heartfelt prayer to God for the gift of peace"  the Pope said at a Mass in Bethlehem.  And at the end of Mass in the square, Pope Francis invited Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli president Shimon Peres to pray with him for peace, saying: "I offer my home in the Vatican as a place for this encounter of prayer”. 

The offices of the Israeli and Palestinian presidents quickly confirmed that they had accepted the invitation, with the Palestinians saying the meeting would take place in June.

The invitation - and the acceptances - were unexpected given Francis's insistence that his three-day visit was "strictly religious" pilgrimage to commemorate a Catholic-Orthodox anniversary.

Israeli-Palestinian peace talks broke down in late April, and there have been no public high-level meetings for a year.

Mr Peres, a 90-year-old Nobel Peace laureate, is set to step down over the summer, and the meeting would take place shortly before he leaves office.

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