Israeli and Palestinian presidents met in an unprecedented prayer meeting with Pope Francis yesterday, a gesture he hopes will "recreate a desire, a possibility" of relaunching the Middle East's stalled peace process.

The Vatican has played down any expectations that the meeting between Shimon Peres and Mahmoud Abbas - billed as a "pause from politics" - will lead to any immediate breakthroughs in the region's tortuous problems and says it is not meddling in regional issues.

"No one is presumptuous enough to think peace will break out on Monday," said Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, a key organiser of the encounter.

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"The intention of this initiative is to reopen a road that has been closed for some time, to recreate a desire, a possibility, to make people dream," he said, adding that the pope does not want to get involved in details of issues such as borders or settlements.