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Friday, June 22, 2018

By Ofira Koopmans, DPA

JERUSALEM — Pope Francis balanced out a prior detour to Israel’s controversial West Bank wall outside Bethlehem with a visit to a monument honoring the victims of suicide bombers in Jerusalem as he wrapped up his Holy Land pilgrimage Monday.

The pope ended a historic, three-day Holy Land pilgrimage, rife with calls for bridging divisions within Christianity, between religions, and between Israelis and Palestinians.

The last leg, in Jerusalem, included visits to Jewish and Muslim holy sites; the grave of Zionist leader Thedor Herzl; and the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial. There were also meetings with Israeli President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Both detours by the “unpredictable” pope — who surprised Sunday by issuing an unprecedented invitation to Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for a joint prayer session at the Vatican — had not been scheduled.

The visit to the monument for victims of terrorism was a request by Netanyahu, who made a point of emphasizing that the wall, which Israel built in and around the West Bank, had “saved thousands of people.”

“We don’t teach our children to build bombs. But we had to build a wall against those who teach the other side,” Netanyahu told the pontiff, who condemned terrorism as “evil” and as “fundamentally criminal.”

“I pray for all these victims of terrorism and for all the victims of terrorism in the world,” added Francis, placing his hand briefly on the Jerusalem stone rectangle.

The pontiff on Sunday made an unscheduled visit to the controversial West Bank security wall after a request from Abbas. During the visit, he placed his hand on the concrete and bowed his head for four minutes.

The pontiff opened his last day by visiting al-Aqsa mosque on the site Muslims call the Noble Sanctuary and Jews call the Temple Mount. There Francis urged non-violence in a meeting with the Sunni cleric in charge of the city’s Islamic sites.

“May no one abuse the name of God through violence,” the pontiff told the grand mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Mohammad Hussein, who condemned the Israeli occupation, called for the release of hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners and spoke out against Israeli police incursions onto the platform in response to stone-throwing.

The pope then prayed at the Western Wall, the remnant of the wall that surrounded the courtyard of the destroyed biblical Jewish Temple.