The Catholic Church has added its voice to the global outcry over Israel's plans to annex parts of the West Bank, summoning both the the US and Israeli ambassadors to the Vatican to express its concerns about the move.
A Vatican statement said secretary of state Cardinal Pietro Parolin had meetings with US Ambassador Callista Gingrich and Israeli Ambassador Oren David on Tuesday to discuss Israel's intention to impose sovereignty over Jewish settlements and the Jordan Valley in the West Bank.
A senior diplomatic source told Reuters the cardinal met the two envoys separately, a detail which was not clear in the Vatican statement.
The Vatican said Cardinal Parolin expressed "the concern of the Holy See regarding possible unilateral actions that may further jeopardise the search for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, as well as the delicate situation in the Middle East".
Israeli leaders decided in May that cabinet and parliamentary deliberations on extending Israeli sovereignty to Jewish settlements and the Jordan Valley in the West Bank, in co-ordination with Washington, could begin on July 1.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had been expected to formally announce Israel's intention on Wednesday before his cabinet and parliament began discussing the move, but this was postponed amid a lack of agreement with the US on the modalities of the move under a peace proposal announced by President Donald Trump in January.
The Vatican statement reiterated its support of a two-state solution, saying "Israel and the State of Palestine have the right to exist and to live in peace and security, within internationally recognised borders".
The Vatican appealed to Israelis and Palestinians to do everything possible to reopen the process of direct negotiations on the basis of UN resolutions.
Palestinians seek the West Bank for a future state. In a show of Palestinian unity, some 3,000 people in the Gaza Strip, including members of the mainstream Fatah party and the rival Hamas group that runs the enclave, protested against annexation.
On Thursday, members of the rival parties held a joint press conference to pledge a joint front against the annexation plan.
"We will put in place all necessary measures to ensure national unity" in efforts against annexation, senior Fatah official Jibril Rajub said from Ramallah.
Hamas official Saleh Al Arouri, speaking by video link from Beirut, described the joint news conference as "an opportunity to start a new phase".
A statement from Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh said the event marked "a major step towards unity", which was endorsed by "the leadership of Hamas".