The Prince of Wales has praised the “vital coexistence” of Christians and Muslims in Bethlehem during his historic first visit to the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
Charles’ first engagement on Palestinian land was to visit the Mosque of Omar on Manger Square, where he heard how Christians and Muslims had lived peacefully alongside each other in Bethlehem for centuries.
A huge bustling crowd of security men, religious clerics, press and the royal entourage – with the prince just about visible – then walked from the mosque to the Church of the Nativity, built on the site where Jesus is said to have been born.
The Omar mosque is named after the Caliph Omar, who conquered Jerusalem in 637 but guaranteed that Christians would be free to continue to worship.
His promise was laid out in the Assurance of Omar, a copy of which was given to the prince.
The governor of Bethlehem Kamel Hmeid told Charles how followers of the two religions lived a peaceful coexistence in the historic town, and recounted the story of how Omar was invited to pray inside the Church of the Nativity.
He refused, saying that if he did it would become a mosque. Instead he prayed outside.
The message of religious co-existence was, said Charles, “a wonderful example”. The prince had earlier signed the visitors’ book in English and Arabic.
The Prince of Wales is on a two-day trip to the Middle East, meeting the President of Israel Reuven Rivlin, Holocaust survivors and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
“I have been tremendously struck by the energy, warmth, and remarkable generosity of the Palestinian people,” the heir to the throne said.
“It has been humbling and profoundly moving to have taken my place in the long line of pilgrims who have journeyed to this special place of such great significance.”
Sky News royal correspondent Rhiannon Mills, in Bethlehem, said “meetings like this are extremely rare”.
The visit comes as Donald Trump stated that his “peace plan” for the region will be revealed next week.
There were clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinian worshippers outside the Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City early on Friday.
Mills said: “Of course, for the Prince of Wales, politics is not why he is here. He really wants to focus on religious tolerance and wants to make sure people of different religious faiths can live alongside each other.”
The governor of Bethlehem said afterwards: “The strongest message from Bethlehem is that we are proud as Palestinians, Muslims and Christians, to live here together.
“We send this message all round the world, that in the Holy Land we can live a normal life, with love between Muslims and Christians. The people live together – working, learning, eating, doing everything together.
“We want to live in peace. We want to live in an independent democratic state with Jerusalem as the capital.”
He said the prince was “very interested” in every detail of the mosque, “he asked about the poor people, how we can help them”.
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