President Shimon Peres met with the Pope Benedict XVI and asked for his help in releasing kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit. Benedict said he would do all he could to assist the process.
The pope and senior Vatican officials expressed hope that the Israeli-Palestinian talks
starting Thursday would bring peace to the region and respect the "legitimate aspirations" of both sides.
"All sides must understand that the alternative to peace is dangerous and extremist Iranian hegemony in the entire Middle East," said Peres.
Upon meeting the president, Benedict sent his condolences to the families of victims of recent shooting attacks, and condemned all attacks against innocent civilians.
"Prime Minister Netanyahu is leading a serious process towards peace. I believe that all leaders involved in the process alongaside Israel – President Obama, President Mubarak, King Abdullah, and of course Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas – are serious about their intentions and understand the significance of achieving peace," said Peres.
The pope said he was encouraged by the direct talks starting in Washington, and said he would pray for their success. Benedict said spiritual and religious assistance should go hand-in-hand with political backing for Mideast peace. "All religions must support the peace process," he said.
In addition, the two discussed the Iranian nuclear program and the president stressed that a nuclear Iran would endanger the entire region.
The Iranian leadership desires a total takeover of moderate Middle East states, adding "this is pure imperialism under the guise of religion," Peres said, adding that a nuclear Iran would be "global suicide".
Ronen Medzini contributed to this report