Pope Urges Palestine State, Gaza Siege End

Pope Benedict XVI called on Wednesday, May 13, for an independent state for the Palestinian people, hoping the long-running siege slapped on the impoverished Gaza Strip would come to an end soon.

"The Holy See supports the right of your people to a sovereign Palestinian homeland in the land of your forefathers, secure and at peace with its neighbors, within internationally recognized borders," he told a joint press conference with President Mahmoud Abbas.

"In particular I call on the international community to bring its influence to bear in favor of a solution."

The pontiff offered his condolences to the victims of Israel’s recent war on Gaza, which killed more than 1,400 Palestinians, mostly women and children.

"To those among you who mourn the loss of family members and loved ones in the hostilities, particularly the recent conflict in Gaza, I offer an assurance of deep compassion and frequent remembrance in prayer."

But he urged young Palestinians not to "allow the loss of life and the destruction that you have witnessed to arouse bitterness or resentment in your hearts."

"Have the courage to resist any temptation you may feel to resort to acts of violence or terrorism. Instead, let what you have experienced renew your determination to build peace."

Pope Benedict also called for lifting the long-running siege Israel has been clamping on the Gaza coastal enclave, home to some 1.6 million.

"Please be assured of my solidarity with you in the immense work of rebuilding which now lies ahead, and my prayers that the embargo will soon be lifted."

Israel, backed by the US, has been closing the Gaza Strip’s exits to the outside world since Hamas took control of the territory in June 2007.

It has completely locked down the area since January, banning food and fuel shipment supplies.

Gaza Christians have regretted that the pope did not visit their bombed-out territory during his eight-day visit to the Holy Land.

"We would have liked him to come to Gaza to see how we live, the situation that we are in," Nevinne, 38, one of 100 Christians that Israel allowed to leave Gaza for the visit, told Agence France-Presse (AFP).

"We are living under a blockade."

Tragic Barrier

Pope Benedict, 82, became an eyewitness to a symbol of Palestinians daily suffering; the Israeli separation wall.

He had to travel to Bethlehem through an imposing checkpoint in Israel’s controversial eight-meter-high steel and concrete wall.

When he later drove to the impoverished Aida Palestinian refugee camp in his white popemobile, the pope had a second experience with the apartheid barrier.

"Towering over us…is a stark reminder of the stalemate that relations between Israelis and Palestinians seem to have reached — the wall," said the pope standing in the shadow of the separation barrier.

"In a world where more and more borders are being opened up — to trade, to travel, to movement of peoples, to cultural exchanges — it is tragic to see walls still being erected," he added,

"How earnestly we pray for an end to the hostilities that have caused this wall to be built."

The steel and concrete wall is snaking some 900 kilometers along the occupied West Bank, leaving larger swathes of it on the Israeli side.

It leaves many Palestinian families cut off and deprived of their livelihoods.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has issued a landmark ruling branding the wall as illegal and asking Israel to compensate affected Palestinians.

Endless Suffering

President Abbas used his joint appearance with the Vatican pope to criticize the Israeli occupation and its severe restrictions on his people.

"In this holy land there are those who continue to build separation walls instead of bridges and seek by the forces of the occupation to compel Muslims and Christians to leave the country."

He urged the leader of the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics to help the suffocating Bethlehem, the traditional birthplace of Jesus Christ.

"Your holiness is fully aware of the situation in Al-Quds which is surrounded by an apartheid wall which forbids our people in the West Bank from reaching the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Al-Aqsa Mosque," he said.

"All kinds of aggression, tyranny and land expropriation are being exercised against all Arab citizens, Muslims and Christians."

Standing beside Pope Benedict in the shadow of the West Bank separation barrier, Abbas urged Israel to embrace peace.

"In front of your holiness I address a message of peace to our Israeli neighbors.

"And I call upon them to renounce occupation, settlements, arrests, and humiliations," he said.

"Their security can only be attained through peace and their acceptance in this region will only be attained through peace.

"Peace means prosperity and coexistence for all the people in this region."
 
(IslamOnline.net and Agencies)

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