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Pope calls for lasting peace in Middle East

The 79-year-old pontiff also called for an end to "brutal violence" in Iraq and a "democratic Lebanon".

india Updated: Dec 25, 2006 23:00 IST

Pope Benedict XVI on Monday made a fresh appeal for a "just and lasting peace" in the Middle East, where he said he hopes to pay a pilgrimage if "circumstances" permit.

The 79-year-old pontiff also called for an end to "brutal violence" in Iraq and a "democratic Lebanon" in his traditional Christmas "Urbi et Orbi" (to the city and the world) message delivered from the balcony of Saint Peter's Basilica before thousands of pilgrims on an unseasonably warm, sunny day.

In a separate message issued by the Vatican, the pope said he hoped to visit the Holy Land and pray in Jerusalem.

"I very much hope that Providence will offer circumstances permitting a pilgrimage to the Holy Land (to) pray in Jerusalem, the emotional heartland of all the descendants of Abraham," Benedict said in a message addressed to Christians in the Middle East.

He called on them to renounce "hatred and vengeance" and to resist the temptation to move away from the region, lest holy Christian sites become deserted "archaeological zones".

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert reiterated an invitation for the pontiff to visit Israel earlier this month, but the Vatican said such a trip would be possible only during conditions of peace or at least of a stable truce.

In his Urbi et Orbi message beamed to 102 television stations in 63 countries, the pope said, "I express my hope that the way will be opened to a just and lasting peace, with respect for the inalienable rights of the peoples living (in the Middle East).

First Published: Dec 25, 2006 23:00 IST