Pope lands in Bethlehem, nod to Palestinian state

Pope Francis landed today in the West Bank town of Bethlehem in a symbolic nod to Palestinian aspirations for their own state as he began a busy second day of his Mideast pilgrimage.

AFP| Updated: May 25, 2014, 13:51 PM IST

Bethlehem:Pope Francis landed today in the West Bank town of Bethlehem in a symbolic nod to Palestinian aspirations for their own state as he began a busy second day of his Mideast pilgrimage.

Jubilant, flag-waving Palestinians greeted Francis in Bethlehem`s Manger Square, where he was to celebrate Mass on a stage next to the Church of the Nativity, built over Jesus` traditional birth grotto.

Giant Palestinian flags in red, white, green and black hanging alongside the Vatican`s yellow-and-white flags decorated the square.
Many in the crowd also wore black-and-white checkered scarves around their heads or necks, a symbol of the Palestinian cause.

Previous popes always came to the West Bank after first arriving in Tel Aviv, Israel. Francis, however, landed at a Bethlehem helipad from Jordan aboard a Jordanian helicopter and immediately headed into an official welcoming ceremony and meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

In its official program, the Vatican referred to Abbas as the president of the "state of Palestine."
"The fact that he is coming straight from Jordan to Bethlehem, without going through Israel," is a tacit recognition of a Palestinian state, said Hanan Ashrawi, a Palestinian Christian who is a senior official in the Palestine Liberation Organisation.
In November 2012, the United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly recognised a "state of Palestine" in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, lands Israel captured in the 1967 war, as a non-member observer.
The recognition still has little meaning on the ground, with Israel remaining in full control of east Jerusalem, which it annexed in 1967, and the West Bank.

However, it has enabled the Palestinians to start seeking membership in UN agencies and accede to international conventions in a further upgrade of their status. Israel objects to the Palestinian campaign, saying it is an attempt to bypass negotiations.