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Pope urges Arafat to end violence

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Pope, a strong supporter of Palestinian rights, held his 10th meeting with Arafat  

VATICAN CITY -- Pope John Paul II has told Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat that the Middle East crisis had reached a point of "unheard of" violence.

During a 25-minute meeting, the pontiff said both Arabs and Israelis had to break the cycle of attacks and reprisals.

The pope and Arafat, who is on a 24-hour visit to Rome, held talks at the Pontiff's summer residence at Castelgandolfo, southeast of Rome.

A Vatican statement said the pope felt the Middle East was mired in "unheard of violence which continues to mow down victims, above all among the civilian and unarmed population."

The statement added: "His Holiness...firmly repeated that there is an absolute need to put an end to all types of violence, be they attacks or reprisals, and to get the much hoped for negotiations on the table."

The visit has taken on added urgency with the killing of eight Palestinians, including two children, by Israel on Tuesday in a missile strike which it said was made in self defence.

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The statement made no reference to Papal support for international monitors for the PPalestinianterritories, which Arafat had called for on his arrival in Rome.

Arafat and his delegation arrived at the pontiff's summer retreat at noon. It was his 10th meeting over the years with John Paul, who has been a strong supporter of Palestinian rights.

Earlier he met new Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi, whose office gave no immediate details of the talks.

As the two leaders met, about 50 people staged a demonstration outside the premier's office, demanding that the Palestinian Authority stop executions of alleged Israeli informers.

The Palestinian leader arrived in Rome on Wednesday, as tens of thousands of Palestinians gathered in the West Bank for the funerals of eight Palestinians killed on Tuesday in an Israeli helicopter raid on a Hamas office in Nablus.

In comments at the start of his visit, Arafat said the deaths underscored the need for international observers to be sent to the region quickly -- something Israel has always refused.

He warned that the violence in the Middle East could spiral out of control and have repercussions beyond the region if an international force is not deployed.

"Their presence is very important, and they should be deployed quickly -- and in the largest numbers possible," he said.

Both Italy and the Vatican have long expressed support for the rights of the Palestinians -- and both have called for an end to 10 months of violence.

The pontiff, who made a historic visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories last year, supports the creation of a Palestinian homeland but also says Israel has a right to exist within secure borders.

The Vatican wants an international status protecting Jerusalem as a sacred city for the world's three great monotheistic religions. Israel, which considers Jerusalem its "united and eternal" capital, rejects this.

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