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Catholic head criticises Israel at midnight mass

    The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster used his Christmas sermon to mount an attack on Israel's policy in the West Bank.

    Vincent Nichols, who is the head of the Catholic church of England and Wales, said during his midnight mass sermon that he was praying for families in Bethlehem.

    Speaking in Westminster Cathedral about how we live in "a land of deep shadow", he said that shadow "falls particularly heavily on the town of Bethlehem".

    "At this moment the people of the parish of Beit Jala prepare for their legal battle to protect their land and homes from further expropriation by Israel," said the archbishop, referring to the planned route of Israel's security fence.

    "Over 50 families face losing their land and their homes as action is taken to complete the separation/security wall across the territory of the district of Bethlehem.

    He said that his congregants should "pray for them" and that they should be "freshly attentive to the needs of those who, like Jesus himself, are displaced and in discomfort".

    Israel's defence ministry has said that the wall is necessary in the Beit Jala region "to keep terror out of Jerusalem".

    "It saves lives," a spokesman said.

    Pope Benedict used his Christmas sermon to express his hope "peace and stability" in Israel and for "the resumption of dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians".

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