Israel's outgoing prime minister Ehud Olmert today confirmed that Pope Benedict XVI will visit the country in May. "In May there will be an important visit, that of Pope Benedict XVI," Mr Olmert said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting. "President Shimon Peres will accompany him during his visit and the prime minister's office has been charged with organising the trip," he said. The trip had been cast in doubt over Holocaust-denying comments made by Richard Williamson, an ultra-conservative English bishop who has denied that Jews died in Nazi gas chambers during World War II.
On Thursday the pontiff told leaders of the Conference of American Jewish Organisations that he was still planning to visit Israel despite the Williamson controversy, but did not specify a date. Pope Benedict told the delegation he was "preparing to visit Israel, a land which is holy for Christians as well as Jews, since the roots of our faith are to be found there". News reports said the visit would take place from May 8 to 14 and include stops in Jerusalem, Nazareth and Bethlehem as well as the Jordanian capital Amman.
The pope has come under harsh criticism since last month for lifting Williamson's excommunication, and last week the Vatican called on him to retract his negationist statements, which he has so far refused to do. * AFP