Pope John Paul II has expressed his deep concern over the violence taking place in the Middle East. At his general audience in St Peter's Square on Wednesday he told 40,000 pilgrims: "We are following with great anguish the acute tension that exists in the Middle East, shaken once again by events that have caused numerous victims. Not even the sacred places have been spared." "I cannot but exhort all to end this whirlwind of violence as soon as possible. "I call all believers to pray to God that the peoples and those responsible in that region will be able to return to negotiations and have the joy once again of feeling themselves children of God, their common Father." On Tuesday afternoon, Israeli minister of regional cooperation, Shimon Peres, visited the Vatican and met with Cardinal Angelo Sodano, secretary of state, and Archbishop Jean Louis Tauran, secretary for relations with states. In an official statement Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said: "During the discussion there was an exchange of opinions on the critical situation in the Middle East." He said the Vatican was confirming "the priority of putting an end to armed confrontations and the urgency of renewing the dialogue between both sides, while respecting the legitimate aspirations of the two peoples and of the signed agreements." Peres told a press conference, the Middle East peace process was not dead, although he admitted it was "in hospital in very grave condition". He said he did not believe that the present situation would degenerate into a larger conflict in the Middle East, as "a sixth war in the area would not resolve anything". He stressed that Israel has "excellent" relations with Jordan and Egypt, and has withdrawn its armed forces from southern Lebanon.
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