Israel's Peres in Rome to meet Prodi and the pope

Israel Materials 5 September 2007 15:18 (UTC +04:00)

( AFP ) - Israeli President Shimon Peres arrived in Rome Wednesday for talks with Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi and a private audience with Pope Benedict XVI, airport officials said.

It is the Israeli president's first visit abroad since being elected on June 13.

He will begin by meeting Prodi, who has held a series of discussions with leaders from the region. Prodi was in Jordan last weekend and had talks on Tuesday night in Rome with Lebanon's Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.

His foreign minister, Massimo d'Alema, is currently on a tour of Israel and Egypt, part of a flurry of diplomatic activity to prepare for the US-proposed international conference to relaunch the Middle East peace process this autumn.

Peres said before leaving Israeli that the radical Islamist movement Hamas had to choose between feeding children on the Gaza strip and firing rockets into southern Israel.

Peres is due to have an audience with the pontiff on Thursday at his summer residence outside Rome.

He met the pope in April last year in his capacity as a former prime minister.