Beliefnet
JERUSALEM, March 22 (UPI)--Both Palestinian and Israeli leaders pronounced themselves pleased following Pope John Paul II's politically charged visit to Bethlehem Wednesday.

A pool reporter who covered the pope's departure from Bethlehem quoted Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat's spokesman as saying Arafat hung a medal around the pope's neck and thanked him for the Vatican's supportive stance of the Palestinian cause.

Arafat was particularly pleased with the pope's statement, upon arriving Bethlehem, in which he said the Holy See, "has always recognized that the Palestinian people have the natural right to a homeland."

In Jerusalem, Israeli ministers concurred with papal statements, and were happy he did not discuss any practical solutions or go beyond previously stated support for Palestinians. "Generally, it was a very good day," Internal Security Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami told reporters.

Israeli Minister Haim Ramon told reporters that just before or close to John Paul's election, the Israeli government had "recognized the Palestinian people's legitimate rights."

At the Deheishe refugee camp, south of Bethlehem, the pope sympathized with the refugees' deprivation and degrading conditions. "You have been deprived of many things," he said.

Ben-Ami told reporters those comments, "were fully understandable. When you come to refugee camp you need to sympathize and to recognize the suffering of the refugees. We do share that recognition," he said.

Violence flared in the refugee camp after the pope had left when residents clashed with Palestinian authorities. Reports said there were several injuries and arrests, and that the violence had resulted from tensions between residents and Palestinian security officials, who the residents claimed had harassed them.

Both Israeli ministers noted Israel and the Palestinians were negotiating an agreement. The negotiations are designed, "to give a political meaning to this concern" about the Palestinians' fate, Ben-Ami said.

In subsequent remarks to the Israeli media, in Hebrew, he noted the pope did not espouse any particular solution. John Paul did not discuss the border issue, the future of the Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, nor did he specifically address the Palestinians demand for the right to return to their old lands.

Ben-Ami chuckled at the Moslems' brief call to prayer, blasted over loudspeakers in the middle of the Christian mass at Bethlehem's Manger Square.

"The situation where you have the voice of the muezzin (Muslim cleric calling people to pray) mixing with the bells tolling and the rabbi praying...is the religious cocktail of this fascinating part of the world," he said.

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