Palestinian Christians battle Israel barrier route


Palestinian ChristiansPalestinians in this Christian village are hoping the new pope can succeed where others have failed — pressing Israel to drop plans to build a stretch of its West Bank separation barrier through their picturesque valley.

Since Vatican properties are affected, residents have appealed to the Roman Catholic Church to use more of its significant influence in the Holy Land to reroute the barrier, even as local Catholic leaders hold a special protest Mass in threatened orchards each week.

The Vatican has called on Israel not to seize the lands, but local Palestinian Catholics want the new pontiff to lean more heavily on Israel.

"We have hope in the new pope, as he is close to the poor and the oppressed," said the Rev. Ibrahim Shomali, the Palestinian priest who has been leading the protests.

Israel has been building the barrier since 2002 in response to a wave of suicide bombings early last decade that killed hundreds of people. Israel says the barrier is needed to keep out Palestinian attackers.