Pope receives Israelis and Palestinians, fears 'mountain of deaths'

Pope receives Israelis and Palestinians, fears mountain of dead

Pope Francis separately received relatives of Israeli hostages held by Hamas in Gaza and Palestinians with family in Gaza on Wednesday at the Vatican, also warning of "a mountain of deaths" in this war.

"Let us pray for peace in the Holy Land. Let us pray that the controversies are resolved through dialogue and negotiation, and not by a mountain of deaths on both sides," he said in a video call for the peace in the world and in the Middle East.

This message was published after he received in the morning "a delegation of Israelis who have family members hostage in Gaza and another of Palestinians", he explained at the end of his general audience Wednesday at the Holy See.

An agreement was reached under the aegis of Qatar for the release of 50 hostages held by Hamas in exchange for Palestinian prisoners and a four-day truce in the Gaza Strip. "They are suffering so much, I have heard how much they all suffer. This is what wars produce," he continued.

“But here, we have gone beyond wars, it is not war, it is terrorism,” added the sovereign pontiff, without specifying whether he was referring to the bloody attack mentioned on October 7 by the Islamist movement Hamas on Israeli soil, to military operations launched in retaliation by Israel in Gaza, or to both.

The Vatican said last week that Francis wanted to express "his spiritual solidarity with the suffering of everyone" during these private meetings. The Pope recently stressed that "every human being, whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim, of any religion, every human being is sacred, precious in the eyes of God and has the right to live in peace." ."

“The world is listening”

Rachel Goldberg, whose 23-year-old son, Hersh Goldberg-Polin, was among those kidnapped by Hamas, said she placed hope in the pope's "great influence" in the world.

"He is very respected in the Muslim world, in the Jewish world, regardless of faith. I think when he speaks, the world really listens," she said during a press conference with other families. Wednesday morning following the interview with the Pope, which lasted around twenty minutes.

The families are calling for the Red Cross to be allowed access to the hostages and "we feel that the Holy Father has the necessary influence in the world" to make this happen, Goldberg said. Mohamed Halalo, an IT manager from Gaza living in Belgium, was one of ten Christian and Muslim Palestinians received by the pope.

“My heart is broken, my eyes are filled with tears,” he said early in the afternoon during the press conference of the Palestinian delegation, recounting how his entire family was swept away by a strike that killed 30 people.

Palestinians present said the pope used the word "genocide" during their meeting to describe what is happening in Gaza.

“It does not seem to me that he used this word,” Vatican spokesperson Matteo Bruni told AFP. "He resorted to the words spoken during the weekly audience and to the words which characterize the terrible situation prevailing in Gaza", he added, while the pope has never before presented in public the situation in Gaza as a genocide.

“He told us about what he already knew about Gaza, and it was he who described what was happening as a genocide,” insisted a participant in the meeting, Shirin Hilal, originally from Bethlehem.

“He said that terror cannot or should not justify terror.”

The Editorial Board (with AFP)

Image credit: Shutterstock/ Roman Yanushevsky

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