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Israel’s foreign minister criticizes Vatican response to Hamas attack

Eli Cohen, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the State of Israel, addresses the Globsec regional security forum in Bratislava, Slovakia on May 30, 2023. ( / Credit: Michal Cizek/AFP via Getty Images

Rome Newsroom, Oct 16, 2023 / 06:25 am (CNA).

Israel has called on the Vatican to issue a clearer condemnation of Hamas’ “terrorist acts,” according to a press release from Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Comments from Pope Francis and other Vatican officials in the aftermath of Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel have called for peace in the region while condemning violence against civilians on both sides. In an interview with Vatican News on Oct. 13, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state, called Hamas’ attacks “inhuman” and said the Holy See expresses “complete and firm condemnation.”

Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen spoke with the Holy See’s foreign minister, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, about the situation in Israel and Palestine on the evening of Oct. 15.

According to a statement issued after the talk, Cohen said Israel expects “the Holy See to issue an unequivocal and clear condemnation of the murderous terrorist acts perpetrated by Hamas terrorists that caused grievous harm to children, women and the elderly just because they are Jews and Israelis.”

“There is no room for unfounded comparisons,” he said. “Hamas, a terrorist organization worse than ISIS, infiltrated Israel with the intent of injuring innocent civilians, while Israel is a democracy trying to protect its citizens from Hamas.”

The foreign minister added that Israel is a democracy operating according to international law, and will continue to do so while not hesitating to defend itself and its citizens.

“It is inconceivable,” Cohen said, “that an announcement essentially expressing concern for the residents of Gaza is issued at the same time Israel is burying 1,300 murdered citizens.”

“Israel is fighting a war that was imposed upon it, and will continue to fight Hamas until it no longer poses a threat to the citizens of Israel. This is being done for the benefit of the entire world,” Cohen’s statement added.

Cohen’s statement does not refer to any specific statements from Vatican officials. The Times of Israel on Oct. 15 noted that the Vatican has had “a range of reactions” to Hamas’ attack. The Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem, the outlet reported, issued a statement on Oct. 7, “as the fighting was still raging.” 

“The operation launched from Gaza and the reaction of the Israeli Army are bringing us back to the worst period of our recent history. The too many casualties and tragedies, which both Palestinians and Israeli families have to deal with, will create more hatred and division, and will destroy more and more any perspective of stability,” read the patriarch’s statement.

“We call on the international community, the religious leaders in the region and in the world, to make every effort in helping to de-escalate the situation, restore calm and work to guarantee the fundamental rights of people in the region,” the patriarchate said.

Pope Francis first addressed the situation in Israel and Palestine on Oct. 8.

In an appeal at the end of his Sunday Angelus address, Pope Francis said “terrorism and war do not bring any solution, but only death and suffering for many innocent people. War is a failure. Every war is a failure.” 

After the Angelus on Oct. 15, he repeated his plea for an end to violence. 

“I continue to follow with great sorrow what is happening in Israel and Palestine,” the pope said. “I think again of the many … in particular of the children and the elderly. I renew my appeal for the freeing of the hostages and I strongly ask that children, the sick, the elderly, women, and all civilians not be made victims of the conflict.”

The Holy Father also stressed the imperative of respecting international humanitarian law in Gaza “where it is urgent and necessary to ensure humanitarian corridors and to come to the aid of the entire population.”

He invited Christians to join the Church in the Holy Land in dedicating Oct. 17 to prayer and fasting for peace and led those present in St. Peter’s Square in praying a Hail Mary.

In his interview with Vatican News published Oct. 13, Cardinal Parolin also called for the release of hostages, echoing an Oct. 11 appeal by Pope Francis, and he said the Holy See stands ready to help mediate a peace agreement.

“It is necessary to regain a sense of reason, abandon the blind logic of hatred, and reject violence as a solution. It is the right of those who are attacked to defend themselves, but even legitimate defense must respect the parameter of proportionality,” the cardinal added.

“I do not know how much room for dialogue there can be between Israel and the Hamas militia, but if there is — and we hope there is — it should be pursued immediately and without delay. This is to avoid further bloodshed, as is happening in Gaza, where many innocent civilian victims have been caused by the Israeli army’s attacks.”

Speaking to thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square for his general audience Oct. 11, Pope Francis underlined that “terrorism and extremism do not help to reach a solution to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, but they fuel hatred, violence, revenge, and only make both suffer.”

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