Israel and the Vatican signed a recognition agreement Thursday, taking a step toward ending some 2,000 years of enmity between Christians and Jews.

Israel's deputy foreign minister, Yossi Beilin, and Monsignor Claudio M. Celli, the Vatican undersecretary of foreign relations, signed an agreement of principles Thursday afternoon at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem.Israeli President Ezer Weizman said he hoped the accord would pave the way for a visit to the Holy Land by Pope John Paul II, the first by a pontiff in 30 years. The pope has accepted an Israeli invitation in principle, but no date has been set.

While Beilin was hailing the agreement as opening a new era in relations, dissenting voices in Israel said there was too much bloodshed caused by the Roman Catholic Church to be erased by a scrap of paper.

Outside the building, about 80 religious Israelis demonstrated against the agreement. They chanted "The people of Israel live" and waved signs recalling the inquisition.

"In the name of Christianity, they killed us and persecuted us," said Amichai Eliash, 22. "The Christian church was silent during the Holocaust . . . We must not sign an agreement with them until they express regret."

Critics argued the Catholic Church must not be forgiven for 2,000 years of doctrine that said the Jews' suffering was God's punishment for their refusal to accept Christianity, which they said fostered anti-Semitism and planted the seeds for the Holocaust in which 6 million Jews perished during World War II.

Haaretz, Israel's influential liberal daily, said the church "persecuted the Jews in the Middle Ages and the pages of its history are stained with Jewish blood . . . should not be forgiven for this."

Other papers voiced suspicion that the Vatican took the step after so many years only to elbow into the final status talks on Jerusalem that are supposed to be completed by 1998 under the PLO-Israel peace accord.

There was also dissent among Arab Christians.

"The agreement is against the Palestinian people," said Ilias al-Koz, a 42-year-old Syrian Orthodox Christian. "It would serve only interests of Israel and the Vatican."

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A Vatican statement stressed that it seeks an internationally declared "special status" for Jerusalem and guarantees about freedom of worship and access to holy spots for all religions.

Michel Sabbah, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Jerusalem, said the Israel-Vatican agreement came as a result of the "general process of reconciliation in the whole area."

The Vatican had resisted recognition of the Jewish state since its establishment in 1948, citing Israel's treatment of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, questions about church property in the Holy Land and the status of Jerusalem.

Under the agreement, Israel and the Vatican will exchange representatives that are to be upgraded to ambassador status later. Both sides have scheduled two years to negotiate the details of the agreement, including the status of church property and economic issues.

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