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Pope Francis calls for immediate release of Israeli hostages held by Hamas

Pope Francis speaks during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square on Oct. 11, 2023. / Credit: Vatican Media

Vatican City, Oct 11, 2023 / 06:13 am (CNA).

Pope Francis appealed for the immediate release of more than 100 hostages being held by Hamas in Gaza on Wednesday and expressed concern for the safety of Palestinian civilians living in the Gaza Strip.

“I pray for those families who saw a feast day transformed into a day of mourning, and I ask that the hostages be immediately released,” Pope Francis said on Oct. 11.

Some 130 Israeli hostages were taken by the militant Islamist group Hamas during its attack on Israel last weekend. The terrorist group has threatened to kill one hostage every time that Israel’s military bombs civilian targets in Gaza “without warning,” according to the Associated Press.

Speaking to thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square for his Wednesday morning audience, the pope 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.”

The pope said that he has been following “what is happening in Israel and Palestine with tears and apprehension.” After Hamas’ attack on Israel killed 1,000 people, the Israeli government vowed retaliation and launched airstrikes on the blockaded Gaza Strip. 

Francis said: “It is the right of those who are attacked to defend themselves, but I am very worried about the total siege in which the Palestinians live in Gaza, where there have been many innocent victims.”

“The Middle East does not need war, but peace, a peace built on justice, dialogue and the courage of fraternity,” he added.

The appeal was the second time that Pope Francis has spoken publicly about the war in Israel since the surprise attack last weekend.

On Sunday, the pope prayed for peace between Israel and Palestine and expressed sorrow that “violence has exploded even more ferociously” between the two, words that drew criticism from Israel’s Embassy to the Holy See who issued a statement warning against “the use of linguistic ambiguities and terms that allude to a false symmetry.” 

The pope also spoke over the telephone with a Catholic priest who serves the only Catholic Church in Gaza on Oct. 9, according to the news agency of the Italian bishops’ conference.

The priest, Father Gabriel Romanelli, who is currently stranded in Bethlehem, told ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, Oct. 9 that the situation “continues to be very bad” and that his Gaza parish is sheltering more than 80 Christians and Muslims amid Israeli airstrikes.

Families of the victims taken hostage by Hamas are desperately waiting to find out if their missing loved ones are safe. An American woman, Abbey Onn, whose five relatives in southern Israel were taken hostage, told CBS News that she had seen a video on social media on Sunday of her 12-year-old relative in the hands of Hamas.

“These are civilians who are being terrorized and we want them brought home,” she said.

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