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Pontiff calls for Palestinian homeland and an end to Israeli blockade

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Pontiff calls for Palestinian homeland and an end to Israeli blockade

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Pope Benedict XVI has offered Vatican support for an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel and his prayers for an end to Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip.

He made his call in the West Bank on the third day of a tour of the Holy Land. Addressing worshippers he said: “The Holy See supports the right of your people to a sovereign Palestinian homeland in the land of your forefathers, secure and at peace with its neighbours within internationally recognised borders.” The two state solution is backed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Western powers although new Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remains unconvinced. The pope held Mass in Bethlehem where he voiced his concern for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip who suffered during an Israeli offensive in January. At the Mass, next to the Church of the Nativity, where Christians believe Jesus was born in a stable, he won applause when he said his heart went out to the pilgrims from war-torn Gaza. “Please be assured of my solidarity with you,” he said, “in the immense work of rebuilding which now lies ahead, and my prayers that the embargo will soon be lifted.”