Receives Arafat at Castel Gandolfo

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, AUG. 2, 2001 ( John Paul II today stressed to Yasser Arafat the “absolute necessity” of an end to all forms of violence in the Middle East as an indispensable condition for peace in the area.

During a 25-minute audience in his summer residence of Castel Gandolfo with the leader of the Palestinian Authority, the Pope made no distinctions when he condemned the attacks that have bloodied Israel and the territories of the Palestinian Authority for almost a year, the Vatican Press Office said in a statement.

“In expressing his sorrow over the victims, caused to date by the repeated confrontations, His Holiness firmly reiterated the absolute necessity that an end be put to any form of violence, whether the result of attacks or reprisals,” said Father Ciro Benedettini, assistant director of the press office.

At the same time, the Vatican statement continues, the Pontiff called for negotiations, “the only means capable, with the help of the international community, of giving hope to attain peace.”

Arafat arrived at the papal residence shortly after midday in a convoy of four dark cars. He was received in the courtyard by Bishop James Harvey, prefect of the pontifical household.

Over Vatican Radio, Father Benedettini said that the meeting between the two leaders “was very cordial.” It was the 10th time the Holy Father met with Arafat on Vatican premises. Today’s audience was of a private nature.

“Arafat himself said during his visit to Rome that he feels great esteem for the Holy Father and hopes to receive much help for the peace process in the Middle East,” Father Benedettini said.

In February 2000 the Vatican signed an agreement with the Palestinian Authority making the Church’s presence in the Palestinian Autonomous Territories official and registering the Vatican request for the creation of an international statute guaranteeing religious liberty in Jerusalem’s Holy Places.

Arafat’s visit to the Holy Father came at a time of acute tension, two days after Israelis killed eight Palestinians, including two children, in a missile attack on the city of Nablus. The Israeli government described the attack as a defensive move.

Today, a 23-year-old Palestinian was killed near Nablus, bringing to 687 the total number of deaths since the intifada began last September. Of the total, 540 were Palestinian victims and 128 Israeli.