VATICAN, Apr. 18, 01 ( – Pope John Paul II made an urgent new plea for peace in the Middle East as he concluded his regular weekly public audience on Wednesday.

Speaking to a crowd of 20,000 people in St. Peter’s Square—after having returned from a few days of rest at his summer residence in Castelgandalfo—the Holy Father said that productive negotiations must be based on "sincere attention to the legitimate aspirations of all peoples and scrupulous observance of international law." He added:

The Pope remarked that while the Christian world enjoys the glory of Easter, "we cannot fail to feel solidarity toward our brothers in the Middle East, who are going through a turbulent time of violence and vengeance." He prayed that "God will speak to the hearts of those who are killing." He continued: "Victor King, have mercy on us!"

On Friday the Pontiff will meet with Lebanon’s Prime Minister Rafic Hariri. Their conversation is certain to center on the trouble sof the Middle East. And in less than three weeks the Holy Father will visit the region himself; his trip to Syria is scheduled for May 5-8.