Pope, Abbas meet in Rome


ROME (JTA) — Pope Benedict XVI held a private audience with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Rome.

During Thursday’s meeting, the pope and Abbas discussed the Middle East peace process.

"During the cordial discussions, having recalled the Holy Father’s own recent trip to the Holy Land, the dialogue focused on the situation in the Middle East and, in particular, on the need to find a just and lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in which the rights of everyone are recognized and respected," a Vatican statement said. "In this context, emphasis was given to the importance of cooperation and mutual respect between the parties involved, and of the support of the international community."

They also discussed the situation of Catholics in the Middle East, "and to the contribution they make to social life and to peaceful coexistence among peoples," the statement said.

Abbas during his two-day visit also met with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, as well as President Giorgio Napolitano.

On Tuesday, the Italian Parliament’s Chamber of Deputies and the Israeli Knesset signed a formal cooperation agreement in Rome.

Chamber of Deputies President Gianfranco Fini and Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, who is in Italy this week on an official visit, signed the protocol.

The agreement lays out several joint objectives between the two parliaments and establishes committees of lawmakers from each side that will meet periodically to formulate a concrete plan of operation.

"What’s important is that this agreement is permanent; it will not end with the current parliamentary term," said Jewish Italian lawmaker Fiamma Nirenstein, a strong supporter of Israel who will head the Italian cooperation committee.

Rivlin also met with Frattini, who reiterated "the strong ties of friendship" between Italy and Israel. Frattini assured Rivlin of Italy’s "active support" for the peace process in the Middle East.

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