Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi held talks Sunday in the West Bank city of Bethlehem with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who awarded him the Star of Jerusalem, a high-ranking Palestinian medal.
According to Lebanon's state-run National News Agency, the meeting was also attended by Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, top peace negotiator Saeb Erakat and former Latin patriarch of Jerusalem Michel Sabbah.
A number of ministers, lawmakers, ambassadors and clergymen were also present at the talks.
“This land is our land and it contains our history and identity. From this land, we will carry peace to the entire world and we will keep supporting and defending the Palestinian cause,” al-Rahi said during the meeting.
He described the Palestinian medal as an “honor to the church and the Lebanese people,” stressing that “peace in the region and the world starts from Palestine.”
Al-Rahi also voiced support for the creation of an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, underlining the need to “intensify efforts and maintain support for the Palestinian cause.”
“No one accepts to give up this land, despite all the tyranny and injustice,” the patriarch emphasized, urging Arabs to exert joint efforts to “achieve the rights of the Palestinians and peace in the region.”
Al-Rahi is accompanying Pope Francis on his first visit to the Holy Land, where the pontiff was welcomed Sunday by thousands of cheering Catholic pilgrims as he celebrated mass in Bethlehem.
The patriarch had arrived Friday in Jordan, accompanied by Bishop Boulos Sayyah and Bkirki spokesman Walid Ghayyad, embarking on a trip that has stirred a wave of controversy and dismayed Hizbullah.
“I took the permission of the president and the premier to visit the Holy Land. I am committed to Lebanese laws,” he told France 24 TV network after landing in Amman.
“This is our land,” he stressed.
Prior to the visit, the Palestinian president had rejected arguments that the patriarch's trip to occupied Jerusalem is tantamount to “political normalization” with Israel, noting that it would serve the Palestinian cause.
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