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Religious leaders unite in peace procession to Bethlehem

The apostolic nuncio and religious leaders in the Holy Land led a procession for peace on Tuesday from Jerusalem to Bethlehem.

Bethlehem, which is majority Palestinian, has become the scene of an Israeli military operation following last Wednesday's assassination of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi by a terrorist group of Palestinian extremists.

The 100-car procession, described as a "convoy of solidarity for peace", included pacifist groups, Muslim religious leaders, and the mayor of Bethlehem. Israeli civil and military authorities had approved the procession.

During a ceremony in St. Catherine's Church, the nuncio Archbishop Pietro Sambi, said: "From this place, where Jesus was born, we appeal for an end to the war. Violence and war mean death and destruction against God and the dignity of every human being."

"We want peace for the Palestinian people, a peace with justice and dignity," the archbishop added. "We want peace for the Israeli people."

For his part, Sheik Ali Saada, director of the organisation for the protection of Islamic property in Palestine, emphasised "fraternity between Christians and Muslims", and referred to Jesus as a "prophet of peace". The sheik called for an immediate end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"For the time being, the friars try to stay close to the people, not to dramatise but to calm the situation," said Fr Giacomo Bini, Minister General of the Order of Friars Minor, in an interview with Vatican Radio. "Given that as friars we are respected by both sides -- partly because of the historic task we have carried out -- we try to talk, to listen to the different groups, and to find a way in which dialogue can triumph over violence."