Abbas, Peres accept Pope's invitation to the Vatican
President Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas accepted on Sunday Pope Francis’ invitation to both leaders pray for peace at the Vatican.
“The president welcomes the pope’s initiative and says he appreciates any effort that is being made towards achieving peace between Israel and her neighbors,” a spokesperson for Peres said.
The subject is likely to be raised in discussion when the president and the pope meet on Monday at the president’s residence and a date will be set for the meeting in the Vatican.
Meanwhile, a PLO executive committee member told CNN that the Palestinian leadership had accepted the papal invitation.
Pope Francis on Sunday invited the Israeli and Palestinian presidents to come to the Vatican to pray for peace a month after US-backed talks aimed at ending the Middle East conflict collapsed.
"In this, the birthplace of the Prince of Peace, I wish to invite you, President Mahmoud Abbas, together with President Shimon Peres, to join me in heartfelt prayer to God for the gift of peace," the Pope said at a Mass in Bethlehem.
"I offer my home in the Vatican as a place for this encounter of prayer," Francis said.
Earlier on Sunday, he made an impassioned plea for peace, urging an intensified effort to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The Pope said he hoped "all will refrain from initiatives and actions which contradict the stated desire to reach a true agreement" for the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
"For the good of all, there is a need to intensify efforts and initiatives aimed at creating the conditions for a stable peace based on justice, on the recognition of the rights of every individual, and on mutual security," Francis said in the Biblical city.
The Pope, hailing good relations between the Holy See and "the State of Palestine", said the time had come "for everyone to find the courage to be generous and creative" in ending "a protracted conflict which has inflicted many wounds so difficult to heal".
Pope Francis arrived in Bethlehem by helicopter from Jordan on Sunday morning on the second day of his first visit to the Middle East.
The pontiff met with Abbas and conducted a public mass service in the central Manger Square and was set to visit the Church of the Nativity before visiting the Dehaishe Palestinian refugee camp.
Israel granted permission to more than 600 Christians from the Gaza Strip to visit the city known as the birthplace of Jesus, Israel Radio reported.
Some 3,000 Palestinian security forces were deployed for the pope's visit and more than 1,000 media personnel were due to cover the historic trip.
The pope's route was specifically designed to allow him to view the large concrete security barrier, otherwise known as the "wall," that surrounds much of Bethlehem.
Later, Sunday afternoon he is set to give an address at Ben-Gurion Airport, and will then move on to Jerusalem for the religious climax of his trip; a meeting with the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City.
He is the fourth pontiff to visit Israel but will be the first to lay a wreath a the grave of the founder of modern Zionism, Theodor Herzl.
The day before his scheduled arrival in Israel, Pope Francis arrived in Jordan Saturday afternoon and called immediately for urgent efforts to find peaceful solutions for the Syrian civil war and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.