New peace talks? Pope Francis invites Israeli, Palestinian presidents to the Vatican to pray

“In this, the birthplace of the Prince of Peace, I wish to invite you, President Mahmoud Abbas, together with President Shimon Peres, to join me in heartfelt prayer to God for the gift of peace,” the Pope said at Mass.

“I offer my home in the Vatican as a place for this encounter of prayer,” Francis said. Asked about the invitation, a spokeswoman for Peres said in Jerusalem that he “always accepts any kind of initiative to promote peace”. While Abbas heads the Palestinian government, Peres’s presidential post is largely ceremonial.

Previous popes always came to the West Bank after first arriving in Tel Aviv, Israel. Francis, however, landed at a Bethlehem helipad from Jordan aboard a Jordanian helicopter and immediately headed into an official welcoming ceremony and meeting with Abbas.

Standing alongside Abbas, Francis declared: “The time has come to put an end to this situation which has become increasingly unacceptable.”