Pope John Paul II told PLO leader Yasser Arafat during their first meeting in six years Friday that Palestinians and Israelis share "an identical fundamental right to have their own country."
Arafat had a 20-minute private audience with the pope and met with Italian government leaders during an 81/2-hour stay on the latest leg of a tour of the Middle East and Europe.At a news conference before leaving Rome for an undisclosed destination, he condemned the crash of the Pan Am jumbo jet in Scotland that killed all 258 people on board. A cause has not yet been determined, but a bombing is suspected.
"This is an action which we condemn. It is directed against humanity as a whole," Arafat told reporters. "If it proves a sabotage, this again is another proof of the importance of fighting against criminal actions."
He told reporters his Palestine Liberation Organization is ready to "join in the effort to stop these criminal acts."
"It is very important for everybody to know that we are pushing to achieve peace against all forms of terrorism, not only in the Middle East but from all parts of the world," Arafat told the news conference. "We have to coordinate all of us to face all forms of terrorism."
Arafat refused to discuss speculation the crash was caused by Palestinian extremist Abu Nidal, who has been sentenced to death by the PLO for attempting to assassinate Arafat.
"I speak for the PLO, not for organizations that are maneuvered by the secret services of several Arab and other states," Arafat said.
A statement issued by the Vatican said the closeness of Christmas "makes still more immediate" the pope's "concern for the Palestinian people, as for the Israeli people, who live in that land where the prince of peace was born."
"The supreme pontiff repeated that he is profoundly convinced that both peoples have an identical fundamental right to have their own country in which to live in liberty, dignity and security, in harmony with neighboring peoples," the Vatican statement said.
It said the pope expressed the hope "that both peoples may quickly see the start of a real process of understanding and peace."