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PLO, Vatican To Discuss Holy Sites

January 14, 1998

JERUSALEM (AP) _ The Vatican and the PLO have decided to negotiate an agreement on the status of Roman Catholic holy sites and churches in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem.

The decision to form a committee to deal with the issue was reached by the Vatican’s foreign minister, Jean-Louis Tauran, and the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Vatican representative, Afif Safieh.

The panel will look into the ``status, rights, obligations and privileges of the Catholic church in Palestinian territories,″ Safieh said Wednesday.

The negotiations will also deal with Roman Catholic properties in east Jerusalem, where the Palestinians hope to establish a future capital, Safieh said in a telephone interview from London.

Israel captured east Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East war and later annexed into its capital. However, the Holy See and most countries in the world don’t recognize Israel’s annexation.

Despite the Vatican’s position, it reached an agreement with Israel on Nov. 10 to place Catholic church properties in east Jerusalem under Israeli jurisdiction, raising concern among the Palestinians.

The Vatican has since reassured the Palestinian Authority that it does not recognize Israeli sovereignty over east Jerusalem, calling Israel’s annexation ``a situation of manifest international illegality″ in a letter in December.

Asked how the Vatican could negotiate agreements on Jerusalem with both the Palestinians and Israel, Safieh said the accord with the Palestinians would be implemented once they attain control over east Jerusalem as part of a negotiated peace settlement.

``The Vatican admits that there is Israeli control over east Jerusalem, but does not recognize Israeli sovereignty,″ Safieh said. ``It wanted to guarantee the church’s rights during the era of Israeli control.″

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Aviv Shiron said the Vatican’s letter to the Palestinians was of no concern to Israel.

The Vatican ``can write whatever letter they want. There are institutions in Jerusalem included in the agreement,″ Shiron said.

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