JERUSALEM, Dec 24, 01 ( - The Latin-rite
Catholic Patriarch of Jerusalem is hoping that the Israeli
government will relent on its announced ban, and allow
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to attend the Christmas
Mass in Jerusalem.

Interviewed on Vatican Radio, Patriarch Michel Sabbah said:
"We hope that the Israeli authorities will make the just
decision for once, and not tie the Christmas Mass to all
the bloodshed, violence, and hostility." He said that
everyone who seeks to attend the Mass-- not just Arafat--
should be allowed in Manger Square in Bethlehem.

The Patriarch emphasized that Bethlehem-- especially on
Christmas Day-- should be a place of peace, and the
Christmas celebration should be free from "all political
calculations." Patriarch Sabbah said the spiritual power of
the Christmas message is particularly necessary to his
people this year, "because it is a difficult Christmas this
year-- more so than in other years."

In Rome, papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls announced
that the Holy See had launched "a diplomatic effort" to
persuade the Israeli government to rescind "the arbitrary
ban" on Arafat's attendance at the Christmas Mass.

And a Palestinian spokesman, Ahmad Abdelrahman, confirmed
that the Palestinian Authority had appealed to Pope John
Paul II for help with the situation. Yasser Arafat has
vowed that he will be in Bethlehem for the celebration,
despite the Israeli ban.