Palestinian president Abbas invites Pope Francis to Middle East

MAHMUD AND FRANCIS. Pope Francis (R) receives Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (L) in a private audience in the pontiff library, Vatican City, Vatican, 17 October 2013.

EPA/Maurizio Brambatti/Pool

VATICAN CITY – Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas on Thursday, October 17 said he had invited Pope Francis to the Middle East, during an audience in the Vatican.

Speaking to Vatican foreign affairs official Dominique Mamberti after the talks, he said: "It was a pleasure and I invited him to the Holy Land".

Abbas gave the pope a ceramic panel with a view of Bethlehem and a Bible as gifts, while Francis gave him a decorative pen with which Abbas said he hoped to sign a peace agreement with Israel.

"Soon, soon," the pope responded.

Israeli President Shimon Peres also invited Francis during a visit earlier this year and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is due to be received by the pope on Wednesday next week.

Francis has already said he would like to travel to the Middle East but the Vatican has not confirmed the trip, despite a report by Israel's Channel 2 television that it will take place in March.

Francis has said he would like to visit with patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians.

Abbas is the fourth Middle East leader to meet Pope Francis after Peres, Lebanese President Michel Sleiman and King Abdullah of Jordan. –