Israeli President Moshe Katsav began a three-day trip to Italy on Tuesday that was to include talks with the country's top officials and a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI, the first official visit to the Vatican by an Israeli head of state.
Katsav met with Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi shortly after his arrival in Rome. Later in the day, he was scheduled to meet with parliament speakers.
On Wednesday the Israeli president was set to hold talks with Premier Silvio Berlusconi, a strong supporter of Israel in Europe. He was also expected to meet with Rome Mayor Walter Veltroni, who has promoted some Israeli-Palestinian conferences in the capital, as well as Rome's Jewish community.
Katsav's meeting with the pope was scheduled for Thursday. Israel and the Vatican established diplomatic relations in the 1990s, and the late Pope John Paul II welcomed Israeli prime ministers and other officials as part of his effort to build ties with the Jewish state.
Since becoming pope in April, Benedict has visited a synagogue in Germany, met Israeli chief rabbis and warned of a rise in anti-Semitism around the world. The synagogue visit was the second time a pope had entered a Jewish house of worship, reports the AP. I.L.