The Prince of Wales has sympathised with the Palestinian people, speaking of the “hardships” they face and saying he wished them “freedom, justice and equality” in the future.
Charles’s words of support – spoken during his first visit to the Palestinian occupied territories – came as Donald Trump was expected to unveil his long-awaited Middle East peace plan.
But the US president’s initiative, intended to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is thought to be an unfavourable one for Palestinians, with the Israelis reportedly set to receive territory gains and other concessions.
Prince Charles began his historic first visit to the West Bank with a gesture of unity, walking through Bethlehem with Muslim and Christian leaders.
He later addressed clerics from across a range of denominations, describing how he had worked to bring together people of different faiths.
Speaking at a reception in Bethlehem celebrating the ties between British and Palestinian people, the prince said: “Elsewhere in the world too, I have endeavoured to build bridges between different religions so that we might learn from each other and be stronger together as a result.
“It breaks my heart therefore that we should continue to see so much suffering and division. No one arriving in Bethlehem today could miss the signs of continued hardship and the situation you face.
“And I can only join you, and all communities, in your prayers for a just and lasting peace. We must pursue this cause with faith and determination, striving to heal the wounds which have caused such pain.
“It is my dearest wish that the future will bring freedom, justice and equality to all Palestinians, enabling you to thrive and to prosper.”
Charles made his speech at Casa Nova, a Franciscan pilgrim house close to the Church of the Nativity, where he spoke with church leaders and health and education officials.
The Palestinian health minister, Dr Mai Kaileh, was the senior political representative at the event. She told the prince of her hope that “history will change” and Palestinians will be “given our right as Palestinian people with an independent state and Jerusalem as our capital”.
Charles also stopped to chat with a group of Palestinian refugees, among them Dr Abdelfattah Abu Srour, the director of the Al Rowwad Centre in Aida refugee camp.
He told the prince he works with children as young as eight who, when asked what they want to be when they grow up, have responded “that they want to die because nobody cares”.
He said the prince replied: “It is painful to hear that.”
Charles also spoke with another refugee, Rua Ahmad Abuoda, a 20-year-old engineering student and member of a women’s empowerment group that works with mothers and disabled children in the Aida and Al-Azzeh refugee camps.
She said: “I spoke to him about disabled children. Some of them have been injured through Israeli soldiers and conflict.”