Pope starts Holy Land visit with Syria peace appeal

Pope starts Holy Land visit with Syria peace appeal
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Pope Francis has called for urgent steps to end Syria’s civil war. The pontiff arrived in neighbouring Jordan on his first day of a Middle East trip.

Francis praised the kingdom for welcoming hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing fighting in Syria that has killed more than 150,000 people in the three-year conflict.

After meeting Jordan’s King Abdullah, the pope held a mass in Amman Stadium. He was later due to meet refugees from Syria and Iraq in Bethany on the River Jordan where Jesus is believed to have been baptised.

Francis, leader of the world’s one billion Roman Catholics, will also use the trip to appeal to members of all religions to work together for peace.

On Sunday the pontiff flies to Bethlehem spending six hours in the occupied West Bank where he will meet Palestinian refugees.

Francis, the first non-European pope in 1,300 years, will head to Israel on Sunday night for a packed itinerary.

Threats to Christians have been scrawled by suspected Jewish militants on Church property in the Holy Land. One read: “Death to Arabs and Christians and all those who hate Israel.”

Israeli security forces issued restraining orders against several Jewish right-wing activists for the duration of the pope’s trip to prevent attacks against Christian people or institutions.

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