President Shimon Peres
President Shimon PeresIsrael news photo: Flash 90

President Shimon Peres plans to meet Thursday with Pope Benedict XVI in Italy. The two are to discuss the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

In addition, the two will talk about captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, Iran's nuclear program, and ties between Israel and the Vatican.

Peres met Wednesday with Gilad Shalit's parents, Noam and Aviva, in advance of his meeting with the Pope. “We must never lose hope, we must continue to fight for Gilad's return,” he said.

Shalit's parents have led a campaign to bring their son home even at the expense of releasing many hundreds of convicted terrorists, including those responsible for multiple murders. Peres praised the two for their struggle, saying, “I am proud of the noble way in which you are struggling to bring back your son Gilad, and I am proud of the Israeli public for standing at your side.”

Shalit's parents asked the president to use his influence to push for Gilad's release.

After meeting with the Pope, Peres plans to remain in Italy over the weekend to attend an economic and diplomatic conference and to defend Israel in the media.