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PA to open embassy in Vatican during Abbas visit

The Palestinian Authority will open an embassy in the Vatican on Friday, capping a significant boosting of ties between Ramallah and the Holy See, the PA’s official news outlet Wafa reported on Thursday.

The inauguration will be attended by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and comes a little over a year and half after the Vatican officially recognized the state of Palestine in a move that was then highly criticized by Israel’s Foreign Ministry.

Issa Kassissieh, Ramallah’s ambassador to the Holy See, called the opening of the embassy a “big achievement for the Palestinian people, considering the pope and the Apostolic Nuncio have adopted the moral legal and political position to recognize the State of Palestine on the 1967 borders.”

He added that the opening of the embassy was a result of “the long journey of sacrifices for our people, which led to the overall agreement signed between the state of Palestine and the Vatican.”

Relations between the Holy See and Palestine were upgraded in 2015 with the signing of an accord. Additionally, the Vatican welcomed a decision by the UN General Assembly in 2012 to recognize a Palestinian state.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry was angered by the 2015 accord between the Holy See and the PA, saying, “This hasty step damages the prospects for advancing a peace agreement, and harms the international effort to convince the PA to return to direct negotiations with Israel.”

Pope Francis is expected to grant Abbas an audience at the Vatican on Saturday.

It will be the third time Francis has met Abbas, following an encounter during the pontiff’s 2014 trip to the Holy Land and the Palestinian leader’s 2015 visit to the Vatican to attend a canonization ceremony for two Palestinian nuns.

Saturday’s meeting will come against a background of deep concern among Palestinians over US President-elect Donald Trump’s declared intention of moving the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Saturday’s meeting will also take place on the eve of an international conference in Paris at which some 70 countries are due to discuss the situation in the Middle East and reiterate support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel is shunning the conference, arguing it will bring the Palestinians further away from direct and bilateral negotiations.

After his meeting with the Pope, Abbas is expected to fly to Paris and meet with French President Francis Hollande on the sidelines of the conference.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was invited by Paris to meet with Hollande and Abbas, but refused the invitation. Netanyahu said he would meet with Hollande and Abbas if there were no international conference.

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