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Israel Govt silence follows Pope criticism of security wall

The Israeli government remained silent on Monday, following Pope John Paul II's weekend suggestion that it should be building bridges with the Palestinians, rather than a security wall that will only lead to further isolation.

Almost 150 km of the security barrier have already been completed, but a new section juts several miles into the West Bank to surround Jewish communities into an area, which Palestinians hope to incorporate into a future state.

Israel says it is erecting the fence for purely security reasons, but Palestinians charge that the move is a political one, aimed at grabbing land.

The Holy Father said that many people consider the fence a new obstacle to Middle East peace. He called on both Israeli and Palestinian leaders to "have the courage to restart dialogue and negotiations, thus freeing the path towards a Middle East reconciled in justice and peace."

The Israeli Foreign Ministry declined to comment. But Israeli sources said that the Vatican had never directly complained to Israel about the fence.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon left for a three-day visit to Italy on Monday. He will meet with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Foreign Minister Franco Franttini, and heads of the Jewish community, but not with Vatican officials.

Meanwhile Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel told the Italian daily Corriere della Sera that the security wall is "an act of pure self-defence", and said he was disappointed with the Pope's criticism.

He said he wished that the Pope would not make political comment when he condemns terrorism. He accused the Pope of suggesting there is a moral equivalence between acts of terrorism and the building of the security wall.

Israel Mum on Papal Criticism Against Its Security Fence (
Elie Wiesel criticizes Pope for questioning Israeli policy (Catholic World News 17/11/03)

Peace laureate Wiesel criticizes pope's comments on Israel ( 17/11/03)
Vatican condemns Israel's apartheid wall (Al-Jazeera 16/11/03)
Key Catholics in Holy Land Echo Papal Opposition to the Barrier (Zenit 17/11/03)
Elie Wiesel: Nobel Peace Prize 1986

19 Nov 2003