Despite the tension between Israel and the Vatican surrounding the Holy See's decision to press ahead with the process of beatifying controversial World War II-era Pope Pius XII, an official Vatican delegation arrived at President Shimon Peres' official residence in Jerusalem on Wednesday to discuss a possible visit by Pope Benedict XVI next year.
The delegation, responsible for preparing the pope's official visits around the world, met with Efrat Duvdevani, the director general of the Office of the President and senior representatives from the Foreign Ministry, the Ministry of Religious Services and the Interior Ministry.
During his visit to Italy in 2007 Peres invited Pope Benedict to Israel, saying such a visit would strengthen the message of peace, reconciliation and hope throughout the entire Middle East. Peres told reporters that the issue of Pius XII's beatification should not be a barrier.
"The visit to the holy country (has) nothing to do with anger or disputes," Peres said. "It's holy all the time; it's holy for all of us."
Israel is attaching great importance to a possible visit by Benedict XVI and hopes it would embolden the ties between the Vatican and Jerusalem.
Pope Pius XII was criticized for his inaction during the Holocaust. Italy's Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini introduced race laws that from 1943 led to the deportation of more than 8,000 Italian Jews to Nazi death camps.
Historians have pointed out Pius also failed to speak out for more than 1,000 Jews arrested on October 16, 1943, as Nazi troops sacked Rome's Jewish ghetto. Only 15 ever returned from the concentration camps.
A caption accompanying a photograph on display at Jerusalem's Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial alleges the wartime pope did not act to save Jews from the Nazi genocide.
Pope Paul VI was the first pontiff to visit Israel, in 1964, and Pope John Paul II visited in 2000.
AFP and AP contributed to the report