Associated Press

September 3, 1994

VATICAN CITY (AP) -- The Vatican is getting ready to establish official relations with Palestinians, Pope John Paul II said Saturday. The announcement was welcomed by Palestinians leaders in the new self-rule regions.

The Vatican is keenly interested in improving relations with Middle East players so it can be involved in peace efforts, especially any decision that might shape the future of Jerusalem or affect the lives of Roman Catholics in the region.

The Holy See has established diplomatic relations with Israel and Jordan in recent months. In Gaza City, Freih Abu Medein, a member of the Palestinian self-rule government, said the pope's announcement is "great news" and "very important to the Palestinians."

Palestinians hope for the Vatican's support once negotiations with Israel begin on the final status of Jerusalem. The talks are to start by May 1996.

Abu Medein told The Associated Press.

The Palestinians want Arab east Jerusalem as the capital of a future state. Israel captured east Jerusalem in 1967.

Christian holy sites in east Jerusalem include the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, built over the site where Jesus is believed to have been buried.

The pope said

He did not say what type of relations with the Palestinians would be established.

The Israel-PLO autonomy accord bars the Palestinians from establishing formal diplomatic relations with other countries during a five-year transition period of self-rule.

But representative offices not dealing with diplomatic matters are permitted. Germany last week became the first country to open such a mission in the autonomous West Bank town of Jericho.