Pope Francis has arrived in the occupied West Bank at the start of a two-day tour to the occupied Palestinian territories amid protests by Israelis opposed to his visit.
Upon arrival in the city of Bethlehem on Sunday, the 77-year-old spiritual leader held a meeting with acting Palestinian Authority Chief Mahmoud Abbas.
During the meeting, Abbas blasted the Israeli regime for putting pressure on Christians and Muslims to leave al-Quds (Jerusalem).
“We have informed his holiness about the tragic situation in Jerusalem (al-Quds)… where Israel is systematically acting to change its identity and character, and strangling the Palestinians, both Christians and Muslims, with the aim of pushing them out,” Abbas said.
Meanwhile, Israeli forces have arrested at least 26 people protesting the Pope’s visit to al-Quds. Two Israeli soldiers were injured in clashes with the protesters.
Israel is facing mounting pressure to rein in a spiraling wave of hate crimes by Israelis, which have been on the rise ahead of the papal visit, mainly in the form of vandalism and graffiti targeting churches.
The Pope began his tour to the Middle East by visiting Jordan earlier on Saturday.
This is Pope Francis’ first visit to the Middle East region since he assumed the papal position and it is the first time a pope lands in the West Bank rather than Tel Aviv first.
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