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Pope contradicts Trump over US embassy move

Pope Francis has set himself on a new collision course with Donald Trump over the President's plans to move the US embassy in Israel.

The pontiff has called for the "status quo" to be respected, after Mr Trump indicated the embassy would be relocated from Tel Aviv to the contested city of Jerusalem.

Expressing "deep concern" over the proposals, the Pope appealed "for all to respect the city's status quo, in accordance with the relevant UN resolutions".

:: Why does Donald Trump want to move the US embassy in Israel?

Image:A general view of the skyline of the old city of Jerusalem

The President is expected to instruct the state department to begin what is expected to be a years-long process of moving the embassy, in a speech on Wednesday afternoon.

While Israel welcomed the news, Palestinian officials have declared the Middle East peace process "finished".

Both Israelis and Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their capital, and the city's status is marked as a final issue to be decided in a peace agreement.

It is regarded as the centre of the Jewish religion, where the biblical King David built a city around the ancient and holy Temple Mount.

Many Israelis, and the country's current government, regard the city as an eternal and undivided capital.

The state has controlled west Jerusalem since 1948, but after the 1967 war annexed the east of the city and occupied the West Bank, staking a claim beyond internationally defined borders.

Donald Trump visited Jerusalem in May 2017
Image:Donald Trump visited Jerusalem in May 2017

East Jerusalem is predominantly Palestinian, home to Islam's third holiest site, the Haram el Sharif, as well as sacred Christian churches and more than 300,000 Palestinians, who make up nearly 40% of Jerusalem's population.

Palestinians want to retain control over part of the city in a final agreement, and accuse Israeli authorities of changing the reality on the ground by building settlements in the east of the city and making life difficult for its Arab population.

US officials, speaking on condition of anonymity before the expected announcement, said the decision was an acknowledgement of the "historic and current" reality in the region rather than a political statement.

Palestinian Muslim worshippers pray outside Lions' Gate, a main entrance to the Al Aqsa mosque compound
Image:Israeli moves toward the Haram el Sharif have led to protests

In his comments, made during his weekly address, Pope Francis called the Holy Land the "land par excellence of dialogue between God and mankind".

"The primary condition of that dialogue is reciprocal respect and a commitment to strengthening that respect, for the sake of recognising the rights of all people, wherever they happen to be," he said.

The Arab world responded to President Trump's reported plan with fierce criticism, and media condemned the move as cities across the region braced for protests.

Turkish foreign minister Mevlet Cavusoglu said the "whole world is against" a move, calling it a "grave mistake" that would bring "chaos and instability".

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Palestinian prime minister Rami Hamdallah said Mr rump's expected recognition was bound to "destroy the peace process and the two-state solution".

British foreign secretary Boris Johnson said there were no plans to move Britain's embassy to the city and expressed "concern" at the reports.

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