Palestinian Authority (PA) chairman Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday held a private audience with Pope Francis and met with top Vatican officials, who emphasized the importance of resuming peace talks with Israel, AFP reports.

Abbas held talks with Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and de facto foreign minister Paul Gallagher on a trip to Rome that also included a meeting with Italian premier Mario Draghi.

“It was stressed that it is absolutely necessary to reactivate direct dialogue in order to achieve a two-state solution, also with the help of more vigorous effort on the part of the international community,” the Vatican said after the meeting, in a statement quoted by AFP.

It “reiterated that Jerusalem must be recognized by all as a place of encounter and not of conflict and that its status must preserve its identity and universal value as a Holy City for all three Abrahamic religions”.

The Pope and Abbas exchanged gifts during their meeting and then held hands as Abbas wished the pope good health and strength going forward, according to footage released by the Vatican.

In what Vatican News said was their sixth meeting in the Vatican, Abbas gave the Pope a representation in amber of the Grotto of the Nativity, an underground cave in Bethlehem where Christians believe Jesus was born.

During a 2018 meeting with Abbas at the Vatican, the Pope called for the implementation of a “two-state solution” to solve the decades old Israel-PA conflict.

The Vatican recognized “Palestine” as a state in 2013. Four years later, in 2017, the PA opened an “embassy” in the Vatican. This occurred after an accord between the Holy See and the PA on the establishment of an “embassy” took effect.

During a 2015 meeting with Abbas, the Pope referred to Abbas as “an angel of peace”, causing outrage on social media.

The Vatican later explained that the reference was mistranslated, and in fact was meant as encouragement for Abbas to pursue peace with Israel.

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