Israeli President Moshe Katsav was to meet with Pope Benedict XVI on Thursday, a historic meeting that marks the first time an Israeli head of state has made an official visit to the Vatican. Police cleared out parked cars along the main boulevard leading to St. Peter's Square in anticipation of Katsav's arrival, which caps a three-day visit to Italy that also included talks with top Italian officials.
Katsav has said that during his meeting he would invite the pope to visit Israel, an invitation first extended by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in a letter to the pope in July.
Israeli officials have said the meeting would also include talks on a long-standing dispute on the tax status of the Roman Catholic Church's large property holdings in Israel. Israeli officials have said the dispute is a major stumbling block to improving ties between the two.
Israel and the Vatican established diplomatic relations in 1993, and the late Pope John Paul II hosted Israeli prime ministers and other officials as part of his effort to build ties with the Jewish state. John Paul visited Israel in 2000, reports the AP. I.L.