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Pope insists on rejection of all middle east violence

During a 25 minute audience in his Castel Gandolfo summer residence on Thursday, Pope John Paul II stressed to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat the "absolute necessity" of an end to all violence as an absolute condition for peace.

"In expressing his sorrow over the victims, caused to date by the repeated confrontations, His Holiness firmly reiterated the absolute necessity that an end be put to any form of violence, whether the result of attacks or reprisals," said Fr Ciro Benedettini, assistant director of the Vatican Press Office.

At the same time, the Vatican statement continued, the Holy Father called for negotiations, "the only means capable, with the help of the international community, of giving hope to attain peace."

Meanwhile Yasser Arafat praised John Paul II for his advocacy for justice in the Mideast conflict in comments that appeared in an interview in the Italian newspaper La Stampa.

"We are very proud of the special relations we have with the Holy Father. The Pope came to visit us and participated with us in the celebrations of the Jubilee of the Year 2000; he has always taken a firm position in favour of justice and peoples' rights."