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AP PHOTOS: In West Bank, pope makes surprise stop

Sunday - 5/25/2014, 12:00pm  ET

Palestinian children wait for Pope Francis at Israel's separation barrier near the Church of the Nativity, traditionally believed to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ in the Palestinian West Bank city of Bethlehem on Sunday, May 25, 2014. Francis called the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate "unacceptable" as he landed Sunday in the West Bank town of Bethlehem in a symbolic nod to Palestinian aspirations for their own state. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

BETHLEHEM, West Bank (AP) -- As Pope Francis made his way Sunday to preside over a Mass in the West Bank, he made a surprise stop at the wall separating it from Israel.

Photographers and onlookers rushed over to watch the pontiff close his eyes and pray against the separation barrier. Only a few bodyguards stood around Francis as he put his right hand against the gray-painted barrier, directly under a manned watchtower.

Francis stood with his eyes closed in concentration. He pressed his forehead against the wall as well for a few moments, surrounded by graffiti including a "FREE PALESTINE" scrawled in red spray paint.

When he finished, Pope Francis slowly crossed himself, then walked away.

Israel says the massive concrete wall is necessary for its security and the Palestinians say has stifled life in Bethlehem and engulfed land across the West Bank. Francis' stop, coming immediately after U.S.-brokered peace talks between the two sides broke down, carries a symbolic importance.

Francis also has invited the Israeli and Palestinian presidents to come to the Vatican next month to pray for peace, an invitation both sides have accepted.

Here are images by AP photographer Ariel Schalit of the pope's surprise stop at the separation barrier.

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Follow AP photographers and photo editors on Twitter: http://apne.ws/15Oo6jo .

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Follow Ariel Schalit on Twitter at www.twitter.com/arielschalit .


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