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Nation/World

May 26, 2014

Mideast leaders accept Vatican invite

(Continued)

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

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.

Peres, whose job is largely ceremonial, has no authority to negotiate peace, and the meeting will be merely symbolic. But he, nonetheless, risks upsetting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with the move.

Netanyahu has expressed anger with politicians that have reached out to Abbas at a time when the Palestinian leader is reconciling with the Islamic militant group Hamas. Israel considers Hamas a terrorist group. There was no immediate comment from Netanyahu’s office.

Francis started out the second day of his three-day Mideast trip with a deeply symbolic decision to land in at a Bethlehem helipad, arriving from Jordan aboard a Jordanian helicopter. Previous popes have always come to the West Bank after first arriving in Tel Aviv, Israel.

Palestinian officials hailed Francis’ decision to arrive first in Bethlehem, and to refer to the “state of Palestine.” In its official program, the Vatican referred to Abbas as the president of the “state of Palestine,” and his Bethlehem office as the “presidential palace.”

“It’s a blessed day,” said Samar Sakkakini, 52, a Palestinian-American from Canton, Michigan, who attended the Mass in Manger Square. “Coming to Bethlehem and flying to Bethlehem from Jordan shows solidarity with the Palestinian people, which is wonderful. We need that.”

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