VATICAN CITY, Dec 13 (AFP) - Pope John Paul II on Thursday denounced the "two extremisms" of Israeli and Palestinian violence which he said was "disfiguring the face of the Holy Land."

The 81-year-old pontiff told a gathering of Middle Eastern Catholic leaders that people were being crushed by "the two extremisms which, independent of the reasons that inspire them, are disfiguring the face of the Holy Land."

"The weight of these extremisms seem to crush our brothers in faith," he told the gathering of prelates and patriarchs of different Catholic rites he had summoned to discuss the future of Christianity in the Holy Land.

The pope, who visited the Middle East last year, described the current situation in the Middle East as "dramatic".

He was speaking after Israel severed its ties with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and said it would hunt down Palestinian "terrorists" itself.

The Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, said at the opening of the meeting that the Holy See would work ceaselessly "to reestablish a climate of peace between Israelis and Palestinians."

Sodano said there were only 117,000 Catholics in Israel and the Palestinian territories out of a population of 6.1 million people.

Catholic and Orthodox Christians together make up only three percent of the population, a problem the cardinal said was "inseparable from the more vast problem of peace in the Holy Land".

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