Palestinians ask OIC summit to counter Vatican-Israel agreement

RAMALLAH (AFP) - The Palestinian legislature appealed to the Islamic summit meeting in Tehran this week to help oppose a recent agreement strengthening ties between Israel and the Vatican, officials said Tuesday.

At a session in Ramallah on Monday, the legislature adopted a resolution calling the Vatican-Israeli accord "an aggressive step against the Palestinian people which lends credibility to Israel's occupation of Jerusalem."

The agreement, signed on Nov. 10, granted legal status to Roman Catholic Church institutions in "areas where Israeli legislation is in effect" - a formula that includes Arab east Jerusalem.

The accord was an outcome of a "fundamental agreement" signed in 1993 which set the stage for the establishment of relations between Israel and the Vatican the following year.

Israel occupied the Arab eastern sector of Jerusalem in 1967 and illegally annexed it as part of its "eternal capital."

The world community, including the Vatican, has never recognized the annexation and under interim peace accords with the Palestinians Israel is required to negotiate the future status of the Holy City.

The 88-member Palestinian legislature sent an "urgent message" to the summit of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference which opened Tuesday in Tehran, asking the Muslim leaders to discuss ways of countering the Vatican-Israel agreement, deputies said.

The deputies also asked the Palestinian executive branch headed by President Yasser Arafat to "use its contacts with the Vatican to prevent ratification of the agreement."

It also called on Mr. Arafat to send a delegation to "inform the Pope of the dangerous consequences of this agreement."

Vatican officials have already issued statements insisting that the accord with Israel was a technical matter which signaled no change in the Holy See's policy of non-recognition of Israeli sovereignty over Arab east Jerusalem, where the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Christianity's holiest site, is located.

Palestinian religious Affairs Minister Hassan Tahbuob earlier called the Vatican-Israel agreement "a stab in the back" for the Palestinians.

"This is a very dangerous matter which gives Israel a say over holy sites in Jerusalem, despite the fact that the status of east Jerusalem is still to be determined in peace negotiations," he said.