VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Benedict and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas discussed intra-Palestinian strife on Tuesday just hours after Hamas’s armed wing broke a five-month ceasefire with Israel.
Abbas, meeting the Pope for the second time, held talks with the Pontiff for little more than 10 minutes in his private study in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace.
A Vatican statement said that among the topics the two discussed was “the internal Palestinian situation”.
Hours before the meeting, Hamas’s armed wing said it fired rockets at Israel from the Gaza strip in response to an Israeli strike over the weekend that killed nine Palestinians.
“We expressed the wish and the hope that the initiatives put forward in recent weeks and months bear fruit, even if the episodes in these last days, as usual, show contrasts in the Holy Land and the Middle East,” said Vatican Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone, who met Abbas separately.
Abbas’s secular Fatah, which was dominant in the days of Yasser Arafat, last month formed part of a unity government with the Islamist Hamas in a bid to end factional fighting.
Before the closed door meeting with the Pope began, Abbas was overheard by reporters telling the Pontiff: “We hope that with your help we can resolve these problems”.
The Vatican supports the right of Palestinians to have their own state as well as Israel’s right to exist in security.
The Pope has standing invitations from both the Palestinian Authority and Israel to visit Holy Land sites but Benedict has said he would like the region to be at peace for such a visit.
Benedict’s predecessor, John Paul, made an historic trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories in 2000.
Abbas meets Prime Minister Romano Prodi, whose government has voiced support for the unity government, later on Tuesday.
Prodi, speaking at an Israeli event in Rome, expressed strong support for Israel, but he also called on the Jewish state to sacrifice more to end the conflict.
“To obtain true peace, Israel should make sacrifices along with the Arab countries and guarantee the Palestinians an independent state,” Prodi said.
Additional reporting by Francesca Piscioneri