Pope Francis met Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas on Saturday, calling him “an angel of peace,” days after the Vatican said it was preparing to sign its first accord with Palestine to the anger of Israel. Abbas met the pontiff for about 20 minutes at a private audience, which came a day before the head of the Roman Catholic Church was due to canonise two Palestinian nuns, who will become the first Palestinian Arabs to gain sainthood.

The Vatican said in a statement the pope and Abbas discussed the peace process with Israel and that “the hope was expressed that direct negotiations between the parties be resumed in order to find a just and lasting solution to the conflict”. “To this end the wish was reiterated that, with the support of the international community, Israelis and Palestinians may take with determination courageous decisions to promote peace,” it said. The two men also touched on other conflicts in the Middle East and the need to combat “terrorism”, it added. They exchanged gifts with the pope giving Abbas a medal with a figure of the angel of peace “which destroys the evil spirit of war”. MORE