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VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis on Wednesday, November 21, met separately with Israeli relatives of hostages held by Hamas and Palestinians with family in Gaza and said the conflict had gone beyond war to become “terrorism.”
Speaking in unscripted remarks at his general audience in St. Peter’s Square shortly after the meetings in his residence, Francis said he heard directly how “both sides are suffering” in the conflict.
“This is what wars do. But here we have gone beyond wars. This is not war. This is terrorism,” he said.
He asked for prayers so that both sides would “not go ahead with passions, which, in the end, kill everyone”.
Israel’s Ambassador to the Vatican Raphael Schutz said he did not want to refer directly to what the pope had said but added: “There is a simple distinction, one side is murdering, raping, and does not care about those on their own side. The other side is engaged in a war of self-defense.”
Schutz was speaking at a news conference with Israeli families who had met the Pope. Most said they were not aware of the Pope’s comments because they happened after the meeting.
Palestinian families were to hold a news conference later on Wednesday.
During the general audience, a group of Palestinians in the crowd held up pictures of bodies wrapped in white cloth and a placard saying “the Nakba continues”.
Nakba is the Arab word for catastrophe and refers to the displacement and dispossession of Palestinians in the 1948 war that surrounded Israel’s founding.
The meetings and the Pope’s comments came hours after Israel and Hamas agreed to a ceasefire in Gaza for at least four days to allow in aid and release at least 50 hostages captured by militants in exchange for at least 150 Palestinians jailed in Israel.
Israel has placed Gaza under siege and relentless bombardment since Hamas militants attacked southern Israeli towns on October 7, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking around 240 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.
Since then, more than 14,000 Gazans have been killed, about 40% of them children, according to medical officials in the Hamas-ruled territory, figures deemed reliable by the United Nations. – Rappler.com