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Pope Francis hosts evening of prayers with Israeli, Palestinian leaders

The presidents of Israel and Palestine joined Pope Francis in the Vatican for an evening of peace prayers and planted an olive tree together, weeks after the latest round of American sponsored negotiations reached a dead end.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres greeted each other in the foyer of Pope Francis' residence ahead of an hour-long Jewish, Christian and Muslim prayer meeting in the Vatican gardens. The trio was also joined by the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I.

“Peacemaking calls for courage, much more so than warfare,” the Pope said. “It calls for the courage to say yes to encounter and no to conflict.”

The Palestinian leader said that he hoped the event would “help Israel decide” to make peace pointing out that pope's invitation had been “courageous.” The Israeli president meanwhile stated that peacemaking was a “duty” and a “holy mission”

“Two peoples, Israelis and Palestinians, still are aching for peace. The tears of mothers over their children are still etched in our hearts. We must put an end to the cries, to the violence,” Peres said as cited by AFP. “We all need peace... peace between equals.”

(L-R) Israeli President Shimon Peres, Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I, Pope Francis and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas leave after a prayer meeting at the Vatican June 8, 2014. (Reuters / Max Rossi)

Abbas concurred saying "We want peace for us and our neighbours."

At the conclusion of the prayers, Francis, Peres and Abbas planted an olive tree together in a sign of peace before holding closed-door talks in a Vatican pavilion.

Despite gestures of peace, tensions are on the rise between two sides after the latest US-brokered peace talks collapsed in Spring as Israel failed to keep a pledge to release a final batch of Palestinian prisoners.

The matters are now even worse after the formation of a Palestinian unity government backed by Hamas.

Israel has since announced plans for building new settler homes and has said it will boycott what it denounces as a “government of terror.”