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Pope Francis to meet with Mahmoud Abbas at the Vatican

This will be the third time the Pontiff meets with the Palestinian president
A file photo of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Pope Francis meeting in 2015 (AFP)

Pope Francis will grant Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas an audience at the Vatican on Saturday, the Holy See confirmed indirectly on Tuesday by announcing arrangements for media coverage of the visit.

It will be the third time Francis has met Abbas following an encounter during the Pontiff's 2014 trip to the Holy Land and the Palestinian leader's 2015 visit to the Vatican to attend a canonisation ceremony for two Palestinian nuns.

Relations between the Holy See and Palestine were upgraded in 2015 with the signing of an accord expected to lead to the establishment of a Palestinian embassy in the Vatican this year.

Israel was angered by the accord, which came two years after the Vatican recognised Palestine as a state. In May 2015, Israel was angered after Francis called Abbas “an angel of peace”.

Their meeting on Saturday will come against a background of deep concern among Palestinians over US President-elect Donald Trump's declared intention of moving the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The Palestinians fear the move would consolidate Israeli control over the ancient city and make it harder for them to have Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

Saturday's meeting will also take place on the eve of an international conference in Paris at which some 70 countries are due to discuss the situation in the Middle East and reiterate support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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