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Pope in Israel calls for two-state solution

BEN-GURION AIRPORT, Israel, May 11 (Reuters) - Pope Benedict arrived in Israel on Monday and called for a two-state solution to its conflict with the Palestinians, a reassertion of Vatican policy that is at odds with the new Israeli government.

"I plead with all those responsible to explore every possible avenue in the search for a just resolution of the outstanding difficulties, so that both peoples may live in peace in a homeland of their own, within secure and internationally recognised borders," he said in a speech at Tel Aviv's airport.

The pope did not mention the word "state", something new Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has resisted promising the Palestinians, despite pressure from Washington and other allies. His reference to two homelands within international borders made clear, however, he was reaffirming the Church's position in favour of establishing a Palestinian state.

Netanyahu, who was about to fly out to Egypt to meet President Hosni Mubarak, was in the welcoming party for the pope, along with Israeli President Shimon Peres. Before the pope spoke, Peres had said: "We have made peace with Egypt and Jordan, and we are negotiating to make peace with the Palestinians. We may also arrive at a comprehensive regional peace in the near future."

Jordan's King Abdullah, who met the pope during three days in Jordan that preceded his five-day trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories, was quoted on Monday as saying the new U.S. administration was working with him on a comprehensive peace deal with all Muslim countries, a "57-state solution".

The pope also said on arrival that he had come to pray for peace, there and across the world.

"I take my place in a long line of Christian pilgrims to these shores," he said in a brief speech.

"I come, like so many others before me, to pray at the holy places, to pray especially for peace -- peace here in the Holy Land, and peace throughout the world."

JERUSALEM

He 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.

Peres said in his speech: "Israel safeguards the absolute freedom of religious practice and free access to holy sites. We are glad to welcome pilgrims from throughout the world in the Holy Land." (Writing by Alastair Macdonald, editing by Jeffrey Heller) (For a graphic on the Pope's trip see URL:

here

; for more on faith and ethics, see the Reuters religion blog FaithWorld at

blogs.reuters.com/faithworld

; for blogs and links on Israeli politics and other Israeli and Palestinian news, go to

blogs.reuters.com/axismundi

)

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