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Pope praises Jordan as tour begins
May 24, 2014, 10:30 pm
Pope Francis has praised Jordan for its "generous welcome" to Syrian refugees at the start of a three-day visit to the Middle East.
The Pope was welcomed by King Abdullah II and in a speech at the royal palace, he stressed the need for an "urgent" solution to the Syrian conflict.
He went on to celebrate Mass at a stadium in the capital Amman and will later meet Syrian refugees.
The tour's official purpose is to improve ties with the Orthodox Church.
However, correspondents say many will expect Pope Francis to use his influence to try to ease tensions in the Middle East.
His highlighting of Jordan's role in accepting Syrian refugees came weeks after the kingdom opened a new camp which could accommodate up to 130,000 refugees. Jordan is already host to almost 600,000 people fleeing the conflict, according to the UN.
In his speech, he also called for more respect for religious freedom, calling it "a fundamental human right".
"I cannot fail to express my hope that it will be upheld throughout the Middle East and the entire world," he said. Christian minorities have been subject to increasing attacks in some parts of the Middle East in recent years.
He thanked Jordan for its "efforts to seek lasting peace for the entire region" and said this would also require a "just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict".
On Sunday he is to begin two days in the West Bank and Israel.
He told journalists that the trip would be "challenging" but rewarding, AP reports.
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