Respect status quo in Jerusalem - Pope says

Respect status quo in Jerusalem - Pope says

"I cannot keep silent my deep concern about the situation that has occurred in recent days, while urging everyone to respect the status quo of the city in accordance with United Nations resolutions", said Pope Francis in a speech in Vatican City in the afternoon.

"My thought now goes to Jerusalem".

In response to Trump's announcement, patriarchs and heads of all churches in Jerusalem urged Trump to reconsider his decision to relocate the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, reiterating deep concerns of potentially escalating conflicts in a region sacred to Muslims, Jews, and Christians.

While West Jerusalem is the seat of Israel's government, Palestinians view East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

The pope spoke at the end of his weekly general audience December 6, the same day that Trump was expected to announce his decision to move the USA embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, fulfilling a promise he made during his presidential campaign.

Francis made the appeal during his weekly audience, after speaking with the Palestinian leader and soon after meeting with a delegation of Palestinian religious and intellectual representatives in a previously scheduled audience.

He spoke of dialogue between religions "and also in civil society".

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In 2012, the Vatican called for "an internationally guaranteed special statute" for Jerusalem, aimed at "safeguarding the freedom of religion and of conscience, the identity and sacred character of Jerusalem as a Holy City, (and) respect for, and freedom of, access to its holy places".

Trump, on the other hand, seemed prepared to announce the move, drawing warnings from Middle Eastern and European leaders that overturning the United States' long-standing policy would further complicate peace negotiations.

We are certain that such steps will yield increased hatred, conflict, violence and suffering in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, moving us farther from the goal of unity and deeper toward destructive division.

The Pope called for dialogue that would respect the rights and interests of all of Jerusalem's inhabitants in a separate statement made earlier on Wednesday. He also voiced his hope that "peace and prosperity" would prevail for the Palestinian people.

The Vatican and Israel established full diplomatic relations in 1994. Renewed conflict broke out in the Gaza Strip soon thereafter.

Religious freedom was a major theme, and was reflected in each of his meetings, he said, and underlined the importance of "openness of the heart as the basis for the culture of encounter, harmony and peace".