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The Vatican and the Catholic Bishops' Synod on Wednesday appointed for the first time an Israeli citizen to preside over Israel's Catholic community.

Minister Elias Shakur, a Palestinian, is the first Israeli citizen to be appointed to the position. This is also the first time in 200 years a Palestinian has been appointed. Until now, ministers from foreign countries, particularly from Lebanon, were appointed bishop.

Shakur will serve as bishop for the entire Catholic population of Israel. The Catholic Patriarch in Lebanon will appoint a separate bishop to preside over the Catholic population in East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

Shakur told Haaretz that he was accepting his appointment at a "fairly difficult time for relations between Jews, Arabs and Muslims."

He said part of his job would be to strengthen tolerance, coexistence and cooperation between all citizens of Israel.

Shakur said that as the first Hebrew speaking bishop he would be able to accurately pass messages between the members of the Catholic community in Israel. Shakur added that he wanted to help reorganize the Catholic church and community in Israel that has suffered revolts and struggles in the pasr years.

Shakur, 66, is a displaced Palestinian originally from the village of Biram. He holds a Bachelors of Arts in Philosophy and Religious Studies from the Sorbonne University in Paris. In 1965 he was appointed minister in the village of Kafr A'avlin, where he continued to live even after his term ended one month following his appointment. Shakur also completed a second degree in Biblical Verse and Talmud from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Sunce the 1970s Shakur has been active in a number of projects to create settlement communities for Catholics, forming kindergartens, teen youth centers and schools. He calls his 'crowning achievement' his establishment of a school for practical engineering in A'avlin, the first Arabic institution in Israel offering a first degree.

Shakur was nominated for the Nobel prize in 1986, 1989 and 1994. He received numerous awards for tolerance and peace and has written books and articles on the Arab-Israeli conflict.