Confusion Over Pope's Planned Visit to Holy Land

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Pope Francis waves after his general audience in St. Peter's square at the Vatican, September 18, 2013.Credit: AFP

Pope Francis' first trip to Israel, scheduled for May, could be in jeopardy due to a strike at the Foreign Ministry.

Conflicting reports emerged Friday about whether the pontiff's visit to Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Amman, Jordan, would go ahead as planned, from May 24 to 26.

Imminent planned visits by foreign leaders, including [British Prime Minister] David Cameron next week or the pope in May, will be complicated, and perhaps impossible because of the strike which began Tuesday, said Yigal Palmor of the Foreign Ministry.

Palmor made his remarks to French news agency AFP as an employee of Israel's Foreign Ministry and not in his capacity as its spokesman.

The leaders could come as tourists, but diplomats will not take care of logistics, protocol or the political dimension of these visits, Palmor told AFP.

Israeli media reported that the trip had been canceled, but a Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, on Friday said it would go ahead as scheduled, despite the labor dispute, although it could pose planning difficulties.

Vatican sources told Italian news agency ANSA that the Holy See hoped the strike would end by May.

Pope Francis announced in January that he would be visiting the region, after receiving invites from both President Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Foreign Ministry workers renewed their strike this week after a seven-month-long mediation process with the Finance Ministry failed to resolve the dispute over working conditions.

As of Tuesday, "Israel's diplomats will no longer engage with foreign representatives, take care of official visits of any kind, either in Israel or overseas, issue visas or provide any consular services," the ministry said in a statement on its website.

"There will be no updates on this channel until further notice," the statement continued. "Regular updates will resume upon a satisfactory resolution of the dispute."

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