Pope may visit Israel early next year

Pope Benedict XVI is considering visiting Israel in the first part of 2007, former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres said today after meeting with the pontiff at the Vatican.

Pope Benedict XVI is considering visiting Israel in the first part of 2007, former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres said today after meeting with the pontiff at the Vatican.

Peres renewed an invitation, first made last year by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, for the Pope to visit the country.

“He indicated that he may do it in the first part of next year,” Peres told a news conference.

Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls confirmed the invitation had been extended in a statement, but gave no details on the Pope’s response.

Peres said he did not think outstanding issues between the Vatican and Israel over taxation of church properties would preclude a papal visit. Some analysts have suggested the Pope might not make the trip until the issues are worked out.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner also dismissed concern that a Hamas-led government in the Palestinian territories would prevent the Pope from visiting the region, saying: “I hope that by then the problem will not remain. Hamas made a government, but I don’t see how they can govern.”

Pope John Paul II visited the Holy Land in 2000, meeting with Israeli officials as well as Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat during a stop in the Palestinian territories.

Benedict has continued John Paul II’s outreach to the Jews, visiting a synagogue in Cologne, Germany, during his first trip abroad last year.

Navarro-Valls said that Peres’ meeting with the Pope and the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, also covered peace prospects in the region.

“In that context, there was unanimity in condemning every form of terrorism under whatever pretext is made to justify it,” the statement said.

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