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End 'unacceptable' Israel-Palestinian clash: Pope

BETHLEHEM, Palestinian Territories--Pope Francis came face to face with the daily reality of Palestinians on Sunday, even touching the controversial separation wall, after calling for an end to the “increasingly unacceptable” Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The pope has said his three-day visit to the Middle East, which began in Jordan Saturday, has “purely religious” motives, but he grabbed headlines with a spontaneous stop at the West Bank separation wall, where he rested his forehead against the barrier in prayer.

It was a show of support that Palestinians had been hoping for, weeks after the collapse of U.S.-brokered peace talks with the Israelis.

In an unprecedented move, Francis invited Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres to his home in the Vatican for a “heartfelt prayer” for peace.

“Building peace is difficult, but living without peace is a constant torment,” he said.

Neither president's office would explicitly confirm acceptance of the invitation, though Peres' spokesman said he welcomed it.

“President Peres, welcomes has always supported, and will continue to support, any attempts to progress the cause of peace,” he said.

Peres, 90, steps down at the end of next month.

Francis's arrival in the West Bank early Sunday marked the start of the second stage of his brief tour aimed at easing an ancient rift with Orthodox Christians and speaking out in favor of regional peace.

“The time has come to put an end to this situation which has become increasingly unacceptable,” the 77-year-old pontiff said.

Flanked by Abbas at his official welcoming ceremony to the Palestinian territories, Francis added: “The time has come for everyone to find the courage... to forge a peace which rests on the acknowledgement by all of the right of two states to exist and to live in peace and security within internationally recognized borders.”

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A picture released by the Vatican press office shows Pope Francis reacting as he touches Israel's separation barrier on Sunday, May 25 after he made an unscheduled stop at the ...

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