Abbas Joins Peres in Inviting Pope
Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas invited Pope Francis to visit the Middle East during a meeting in the Vatican on Thursday, the AFP news agency reports.
Speaking to Vatican foreign affairs official Dominique Mamberti after the talks, Abbas described the meeting as "a pleasure" and said that during the meeting "I invited him to the Holy Land".
Abbas gave the pope a ceramic panel with a view of Bethlehem and a Bible as gifts, while Francis gave him a decorative pen with which Abbas said he hoped to sign a peace agreement with Israel.
"Soon, soon," the pope responded.
The PA and Israel are currently engaged in diplomatic talks, the contents of which have been kept secret. While international leaders have expressed hope, Israeli sources have reported that there appears to be no new agreement on the "core issues" of borders, Jerusalem, and the Arab demand that descendents of Arabs who fled Israel be allowed to "return."
President Shimon Peres also invited Pope Francis during a visit earlier this year, and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is due to be received by the pope on Wednesday next week.
Francis has already said he would like to travel to the Middle East but the Vatican has not confirmed the trip, despite a report by Israel's Channel 2 television that it will take place in March.
Francis has said he would like to visit patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians.