Pope accepts invite to Israel, urges peace talks
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis urged Israelis and Palestinians to resume talks and make "courageous decisions" to bring peace after his first meeting with Israel's President Shimon Peres on Tuesday and accepted an invitation to visit the Holy Land.
The two discussed the civil war in Syria, tensions in Iran and the scourge of anti-Semitism during half an hour of private talks in the Vatican's Apostolic Palace.
The pope hoped for "a speedy resumption of negotiations" to reach an agreement that respected the legitimate aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians, the Vatican said.
Peres told the pope he believed "there is a chance" to open negotiations and called Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas "a genuine partner for peace", an Israeli statement added.
U.S.-sponsored negotiations on the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel stalled in 2010 over a dispute about Israeli settlements in occupied territories.
"I am expecting you in Jerusalem, not just me but the whole country of Israel," Peres told the pope in the presence of reporters after the talks.
The pope accepted the invitation "with willingness and joy", a Vatican spokesman said, but there was no indication when a trip would be made.
A statement from Peres said he and the pope discussed anti-Semitism and quoted the pope as telling Peres: "Anti-Semitism goes against Christianity - as Pope I will not tolerate any expression of anti-Semitism".
Francis, the former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina, has focused on building up relations with Jewish leaders and, when he was archbishop, wrote a book with an Argentine rabbi, Abraham Skorka.
The Catholic Church's relations with Jews were revolutionized in 1965 by a Second Vatican Council document that repudiated the concept of collective Jewish guilt for the death of Jesus.
Both of Francis's two immediate predecessors, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, visited the Holy Land, including the Palestinian territories, in 2000 and 2009 respectively.
Peres asked Francis "to pray for all of us" and told the pope he would pray for him during a trip on Wednesday to the central Italian city of Assisi, where he will visit the tomb of St. Francis, whose name Bergoglio adopted when elected.
(Editing by Andrew Heavens)