May 11, 2009 / 8:44 AM / 10 years ago

Pope calls for free access for all to Jerusalem

BEN-GURION AIRPORT, Israel, May 11 (Reuters) - Pope Benedict, beginning a visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories on Monday, called for free access to Jerusalem for people from all the religions with holy sites in the city. "One thing that the three great monotheistic religions have in common is a special veneration for that holy city," he said, referring to Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

"It is my earnest hope that all pilgrims to the holy places will be able to access them freely and without restraint."

Israel has controlled all of Jerusalem since a war in 1967. Its annexation of Arab East Jerusalem, including the Old City with its many holy places, is not recognised internationally. Israeli leaders say they do all they can to ensure free access. Many Arab Muslims and Christians complain Israeli security controls keep them out.

(Reporting by Philip Pullella, writing by Alastair Macdonald, editing by Jeffrey Heller)

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