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Pope Proclaims ‘identical Rights’ After Brief Meeting with Arafat

Pope John Paul II met with Yasir Arafat last week in order to encourage him to seek a peaceful dialogue, the Vatican said in a statement released Friday.

The statement said the pope had confidence in Arafat’s steadfast desire for peace and that he believed both Israelis and Palestinians had “the identical fundamental right to their own homeland in which they could live in freedom and dignity.”

The Palestine Liberation Organization chairman came to Rome Friday on a half-day visit. It included a 20-minute meeting with the pontiff and longer meetings with Italian Prime Minister Ciraco de Mita, Deputy Prime Minister Gianni de Michelis and Foreign Minister Giulio Andreotti.

The Vatican statement said the pope stressed to Arafat that dialogue is “the only way to seek an equitable solution to the Middle East conflict, excluding all recourse to weapons and violence, and above all to terrorism and reprisal.”

At a news conference after meeting the pope, Arafat repeated that the PLO wants a dialogue with the Israelis. “Unfortunately, the Israeli government is a government of war,” he said.

He alleged that terrorist acts attributed to Palestinian extremists were actually the work of foreign secret services, but he named no country in that connection.

NO ROLE IN PAN AM DISASTER

Terrorism was very much on the minds of reporters who attended the news conference.

Only two days earlier, on Dec. 21, a Pan American World Airways jet disintegrated in the air over Scotland, taking 258 lives on board.

The investigation so far has been unable to confirm or rule out suspicions of a terrorist act.

Arafat strongly denied that the PLO had anything to do with the disaster, and reiterated that it condemned terrorism.

“It was a criminal action, directed against humanity,” he said of the crash, offering condolences to the families of the victims.

Arafat said he had lost a dear friend, the Swedish U.N. diplomat Berndt Carlsson, who was a passenger on the flight.

Italy was the first European Community country visited by the PLO leader since the United States announced it would open a dialogue with the PLO.

It was Arafat’s sixth visit to this country. He met with the pope in 1982.

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