West Bank wall is tragic, Pope tells refugees

May 14th, 2009 - 1:16 am ICT by IANS  

Aida refugee camp (West Bank), May 13 (DPA) Pope Benedict XVI called Israel’s West Bank security wall “tragic” Wednesday, as he paid a solidarity visit to a Palestinian refugee camp isolated by the barrier.
“Towering over us, as we gather here this afternoon, is a stark reminder of the stalemate that relations between Israelis and Palestinians seem to have reached - the wall,” the pontiff told the inhabitants of the Aida refugee camp near Bethlehem.

“In a world where more and more borders are being opened up - to trade, to travel, to movement of people, to cultural exchanges - it is tragic to see walls still being erected,” he said in the courtyard of the camp’s UN-run school.

“How earnestly we pray for an end to the hostilities that have caused this wall to be built,” he added, but, sticking to his careful balancing act, he refrained from blatantly condemning the wall.

Israel began building the barrier in the summer of 2002, in response it said, to a spate of Palestinian suicide bombings in Israeli cities.

But Palestinians charge that the barrier, which in some locations snakes deep into the West Bank, is an Israeli “land grab”.

Benedict’s comments at Aida came towards the end of perhaps the most charged of his five-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian areas.

Already on his reception in the southern West Bank city of Bethlehem in the morning, he had expressed support for a “sovereign Palestinian homeland … within internationally recognized borders”.

But in the Aida camp he went further and used the phrase “independent Palestinian state”.

“Your legitimate aspirations for permanent homes, for an independent Palestinian state, remain unfulfilled,” he told the refugees in the most political speech since he landed in Israel on Monday.

He also urged the international community to bring its “influence to bear in favour of a just and lasting solution”.

The audience of refugees, as well as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, greeted with applause an indirect reference to the Palestinian demand for the return of refugees of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

In the reference, Benedict expressed solidarity with “all the homeless Palestinians who long to be able to return to their birthplace, or to live permanently in a homeland of their own”.

Benedict is due to return to Rome Friday afternoon.

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