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Holy Land Patriarch's Christmas appeal for peace

The senior Catholic clergyman in Jerusalem has made a pre-Christmas appeal to Israelis and Palestinians to make peace and end the suffering of both peoples.

The Latin Patriarch of the Holy Land, Michel Sabbah, said God wants Israelis and Palestinians to act not as adversaries but rather as brothers and sisters.

The archbishop, who is a Palestinian, told his annual news conference at his headquarters in Jerusalem's walled Old City that this is the true meaning of Christmas.

"The Christmas message is first of all a message of hope and spiritual strength that opposes all material strength," he said. "It is a message of hope and spiritual strength despite all the obstacles that rise up in the way of peace."

Archbishop Sabbah says the key to ending to the conflict is for the two sides to negotiate a settlement under a land for peace formula.

"Truly nobody, neither Israeli nor Palestinian, wants war and bloodshed," he said. "Israelis are in search of their security, and Palestinians are in search of their land and liberty."

Archbishop Sabbah believes the way for Israelis to win the hearts of Palestinians is to stop building a security barrier in the West Bank.

Israel says the barrier is necessary to prevent Palestinians from crossing into the Jewish State to carry out terror attacks. But the Archbishop says the project is driving the two sides further away from peace.

Archbishop Sabbah is expected to expand on these themes when he conducts a midnight mass for Christmas at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

Top Jerusalem Catholic Cleric Urges End of Conflict (Voice of America 23/12/03)

Christmas message from Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem (Independent Catholic News 23/12/03)
Bethlehem wants its pilgrims back, if the guards allow it (Sydney Morning Herald 24/12/03)
Jerusalem patriarch questions charge for Christmas broadcasters (Catholic News Service 22/12/03)
Bethlehem Prepares for Dour Christmas (Christianity Today)
Bethlehem, sad and isolated. Christians emigrate (AsiaNews 23/12/03)

24 Dec 2003