Pope Francis appeals to respect Jerusalem's 'status quo'

Pope Francis talks during a special audience with nuns of Rome's diocese in Paul VI hall at the Vatican

Pope Francis talks during a special audience with nuns of Rome's diocese in Paul VI hall at the Vatican

Vatican City • Pope Francis called on Wednesday for the status quo of Jerusalem to be respected and for "wisdom and prudence" to prevail to avoid further conflict, hours before the expected announcement that the United States is recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

"Jerusalem is a unique city, sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims, where the Holy Places for the respective religions are venerated, and it has a special vocation to peace", Francis said.

He made the appeal during his weekly Wednesday audience, ahead of the expected United States announcement by President Donald Trump recognising Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Trump is also expected to approve moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, although not immediately.

Debate on the issue is in many ways the crux of the conflict between Israel and Palestine, which is backed by Arab leaders, including Saudi Arabia, and the wider Islamic world.

"My thoughts now turn to Jerusalem", the Pope said before the large crowd assembled in the Vatican's Paul VI Hall for his weekly General Audience.

Speaking during a weekly address in Vatican, the Pope said: "I can not keep silent on my deep concern for the situation that has been created in the past days".

Jerusalem remains at the core of the Israel-Palestine conflict, with Palestinians hoping that East Jerusalem - now occupied by Israel - might eventually serve as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

According to the 1993 Israel-Palestinian peace accords, the final status of Jerusalem will be discussed in the late stages of the talks.

The pope, who spoke to the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas about the crises on Tuesday, made his comments to a group of visiting Palestinians involved in the interfaith dialogue with the Vatican.

Recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital, then, is likely to increase tension on the issue, particularly in regards to the 200,000-some settlements Israel has built in East Jerusalem, which are considered illegal under global law, though Israel disputes this stance.

The Vatican and Israel established full diplomatic relations in 1994.

Christians, Pope Francis said, must be aware "that each one of us is a sprout of that root", which must be cared for so that it can grow with the strength of the Holy Spirit. He expressed his hope for "peace and prosperity" for the Palestinian people.

The pope highlighted the value of dialogue and its importance for the Catholic Church, especially in the birthplace of Christianity.

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