Pope weaves through Mideast obstacle course as visit ends

Mon May 26, 2014 7:19pm EDT
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By Crispian Balmer and Philip Pullella

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Pope Francis navigated the minefield of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and humbly bowed to kiss the hands of Holocaust survivors on Monday, the last day of a successful Mideast trip laden with bold personal gestures.

"Never again, Lord. Never again!" he said in the dimly lit Hall of Remembrance in the Yad Vashem Museum which commemorates six million Jews killed by the Nazis in World War Two.

The fourth pope to visit Israel, Francis had earlier became the first to lay a wreath at the tomb of Theodor Herzl, seen as the founder of modern Zionism that led to Israel's foundation. At the request of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he also made an unannounced detour to Israel's "Memorial to the Victims of Terror", the day after unexpectedly praying at a towering Israeli security wall that is despised by Palestinians.

In a mirror image of the halt at the graffiti-smeared wall, Francis put both hands on the neat stone and marble monument and bowed his head, delighting his Israeli hosts who had smarted in silence over Sunday's impromptu stop.

"I pray for all the victims of terrorism. Please, no more terrorism," the softly spoken pope said at the memorial, which is engraved with the names of Israeli civilians killed mainly in attacks by Palestinian militants.

Netanyahu, standing at his side, thanked him for his words.

"We don't teach our children to plant bombs. We teach them peace, but we have to build a wall for those who teach the other side," he said, accusing Palestinian leaders of incitement.

Israel says its barrier in the occupied West Bank was erected to safeguard national security after a wave of Palestinian suicide bombings a decade ago. Palestinians see it as a brutal attempt to grab land they seek for a future state.   Continued...

Pope Francis listens to a children's choir during a reception at the residence of Israel's President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem May 26, 2014.  REUTERS/Tsafrir Abayov/Pool