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Middle East

Pope appeals for 'fair and lasting' Middle East peace in talks with Israel's Netanyahu

Pope Francis has called for a fair and lasting solution to "the complex political and social situation in the Middle East" during a visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has invited the pope to Israel.

Benjamin Netanyahu met Pope Francis on Monday as part of his visit to Rome, where the pontiff called for progress in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

The pope appealed for a "fair and lasting" Middle East peace deal, with the Vatican saying that the 25-minute meeting focused on "the complex political and social situation in the Middle East, in particular on the restart of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations."

The Vatican announced in a statement published after the meeting that it hoped for "a fair and lasting solution as soon as possible, respecting the needs of both parties."

Negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians resumed in July after a lengthy hiatus, but broke down over issues including settlement building in the occupied West Bank.

Netanyahu also invited the pope to make his first visit to Jerusalem since replacing Benedict XVI at the head of the Roman Catholic Church. No date has yet been set, but sources on both sides indicated that Francis could go to Jersualem before President Shimon Peres' term ends in July. The Vatican and Israel established full diplomatic relations in 1993.

Bringing a book

Israel's premier presented the Pope with a book written by his father, historian Benzion Netanyahu. Frances gave Netanyahu a carved panel of Saint Paul in return for his Spanish-language copy of "The Origins of the Inquisition in Fifteenth Century Spain."

Netanyahu, who arrived in Italy on Sunday, went on to meet with his Italian counterpart Enrico Letta. This followed an official engagement for the pair at a weekend candle-lighting ceremony at a Rome synagogue, where Netanyahu was again critical of an interim deal on Iran's nuclear program forged last month.

"I would like to dispel any illusions. Iran aspires to attain an atomic bomb. It would thus threaten not only Israel but also Italy, Europe and the entire world," Netanyahu said. "The most dangerous regime in the world must not be allowed to have the most dangerous weapon in the world."

The November deal - brokered by the permanent members of the UN Security Council, Germany, Iran and the EU - agreed to lift some sanctions against Iran in return for several conditions, including that Tehran cease the enrichment of uranium to higher levels that could potentially be used in a bomb.

msh/mkg (AFP, dpa)