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Pope Benedict XVI ends his pilgrimage to Holy Land by appealing to Israelis, Palestinians to seek peace

JERUSALEM — Pope Benedict XVI ended his pilgrimage to the Holy Land on Friday with a stirring call for peace at the site of Jesus' Crucifixion and then made an emotional appeal to Israel and the Palestinians: "No more bloodshed. No more fighting. No more terrorism. No more war."

After a weeklong struggle to get his message across through a din of Israeli criticism and Palestinian protest against Israel, Benedict delivered his strongest words yet on the Jewish state's right to exist and the Palestinians' right to a country of their own.

"Let it be universally recognized that the state of Israel has the right to exist, and to enjoy peace and security within internationally agreed borders," Benedict said on the airport tarmac before boarding a plane to Rome.

"Let it be likewise acknowledged that the Palestinian people have a right to a sovereign independent homeland," he said.

The pope was dogged at every turn by controversy and politics, but his message on the last day of his trip — delivered in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the traditional site of Jesus' Crucifixion, burial and Resurrection — was that peace is possible.

"The Gospel reassures us that God can make all things new, that history need not be repeated, that memories can be healed, that the bitter fruits of recrimination and hostility can be overcome," the pope said after kneeling in prayer beside the tomb of Jesus.

Among other goals, Benedict's trip was meant to further the Roman Catholic Church's outreach to Jews and Muslims and support the beleaguered Christian communities of the Holy Land. The pope appeared to make headway on those fronts, though his visit lacked the historic resonance of his predecessor Pope John Paul II's pilgrimage nine years earlier.

Syria faults israel: Syrian President Bashar Assad said Friday that his country is interested in resuming indirect peace talks with Israel but does not believe the new Israeli government makes a good negotiating partner. Syria has said it is willing to resume the talks mediated by Turkey as long as they focus on a complete Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights. But Israel's new prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has said he would not be willing to cede the territory Syria wants.

Pope Benedict XVI ends his pilgrimage to Holy Land by appealing to Israelis, Palestinians to seek peace 05/15/09 [Last modified: Friday, May 15, 2009 11:45pm]
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