Pope Joins Call for Palestinian State

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BETHLEHEM - Pope Benedict XVI joined the nations of the world in calling for the establishment of a Palestinian state during a speech in Bethlehem on Wednesday.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas welcomed the Pope to Bethlehem on day three of his five-day visit to Israel.

"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," the Pope said from the birthplace of Jesus.

The Pope also told the crowd that he was praying for an end to Israel's economic blockade of the Gaza Strip.

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

"I know how much you have suffered and continue to suffer as a result of the turmoil that has afflicted this land for decades," he said.

Abbas presented the Pope with a souvenir piece of the security barrier Israel erected to deter Palestinian suicide bombers from Jerusalem.

"We have been suffering since the Nakba 61 years ago," Abbas told the pontiff.

"On this holy land, there are people who continue to build separation walls instead of building bridges for connection," he said.

On Thursday, the Pope will conduct another Mass in Nazareth, where Jesus spent much of his childhood.

At a mass held in the Garden of Gethsemane on Wednesday, the Pope declared Jerusalem the spiritual home of Jews, Muslims and Catholics.

Sources: Haaretz, israel national news

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