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Pope calls for peace at end of Mideast tour.

Summary: Pope Benedict XVI prayed at Christianity's holiest site on Friday as he wrapped up a Holy Land tour in which he pleaded for Middle East peace and stirred Israeli criticism that he lacked remorse over

Pope Benedict XVI prayed at Christianity's holiest site on Friday as he wrapped up a Holy Land tour in which he pleaded for Middle East peace and stirred Israeli criticism that he lacked remorse over the Holocaust.

In the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the pontiff knelt in silent prayer in a tiny cavelike room revered as the tomb of Jesus and later at the spot where most Christians believe their "Prince of Peace" was crucified. He also preached a message of hope for all mankind, telling his audience at the church that "love is stronger than death."

"The empty tomb speaks to us of hope, the hope that does not disappoint because it is the gift of the spirit of life," he said after praying at the Stone of Anointing where Christians believe the body of Jesus Christ was prepared for burial.

It was Benedict's first visit as pope to the place where Christ was crucified, died, was buried and then rose from the dead, according to the Christian faith.

Another call for peace

Ending an eight-day tour of Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories, the 82-year-old pope repeated his call for peace to come to the land revered by the world's three monotheistic faiths that has been wracked by decades of violence.

"The bitter fruits of recrimination and hostility can be overcome and...a future of justice, peace, prosperity and cooperation can arise," he said.

His visit to the 11th century church in the Old City of Jerusalem came on the same day that Palestinians marked the 61st anniversary of what they call the Naqba, the "catastrophe" of Israel's creation in 1948.

During his pilgrimage, the pope prayed at some of Christianity's most sacred destinations, visited Muslim and Jewish holy sites at the heart of the Middle East conflict, stood in silence at Israel's Holocaust memorial and saw the conditions in which Palestinians refugees live.

The leader of the world's 1.1 billion Catholics took his message of peace and reconciliation to religious leaders of various denominations, to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

Solidarity with refugees

In Bethlehem, the cradle of Christianity, the pope visited Palestinian refugees living in the shadow of the eight-meter (25-foot) high wall that forms part of the West Bank separation barrier Israel says is crucial to its security but which to Palestinians symbolizes the Jewish state's "apartheid" regime.

"Towering over us... is a stark reminder of the stalemate that relations between Israelis and Palestinians seem to have reached --the wall," Benedict said at a refugee camp just outside the occupied West Bank city.

"In a world where more and more borders are being opened is tragic to see walls still being erected," he said.

He expressed his solidarity with refugees and said his heart went out to relatives of detainees and families divided by Israeli restrictions on freedom of movement for Palestinians.

The pope also called for the lifting of the crippling blockade Israel has imposed against Gaza since the Islamist Hamas movement seized power there in June 2007 and expressed sorrow for the victims of the deadly 22-day military offensive Israel launched against the Palestinian enclave in December 2008.

He told Palestinians he understood the frustration they felt as their "legitimate aspirations" for an independent state remain unfulfilled, but also urged young people to resist the temptation of "terrorism."

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Publication:Al Arabiya (Saudi Arabia)
Date:May 14, 2009
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