Pope calls for new ceasefire as fresh air attacks hit Holy Land
As Israel continued bombing Gaza and Hamas launched rockets against Israel, Pope Francis has made an impassioned appeal for an end to the fighting and killing, and the restoration of peace in the Holy Land.
His first call to both sides in the conflict to look for a peaceful end to the fighting came last Sunday, when he urged the tens of thousands of pilgrims gathered in St Peter’s Square and believers worldwide to pray non-stop for peace in the Holy Land.
“I ask all of you to continue to pray for peace in the Holy Land in the light of the tragic events of these last days”, he said.
At one point earlier this week it looked like his prayers had been answered after an Egyptian-brokered truce was agreed. However, it broke down within hours of its start on Tuesday, after Israel said Hamas missiles had landed on Jewish settlements after a ceasefire lasting just six hours.
It immediately retaliated by bombing areas of Palestine it claimed the rockets had originated from. Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu said: “This would have been better resolved diplomatically, that’s what we tried to do when we accepted the Egyptian truce proposal.
“But Hamas’ actions leave us no choice but to expand and intensify the campaign against it.”
A senior Hamas spokesman, Osama Hamdan, told the BBC it had only heard about the truce initiative through the media and that a ceasefire could not be put in place without the details of any agreement being known.
Both civilian populations have suffered greatly in recent days, with the first deaths reported in Israel and scores wounded. Only its hi-tech missile defence system – the ‘Iron Dome’ – is preventing more missiles finding their targets on the ground.
However, Palestinians living in Gaza have no such devices and have suffered accordingly, with far worse civilian casualties. The recent campaign has now cost over 200 lives.
The breakdown of a promising peace was reported to have greatly concerned the Pope. In his latest address on the crisis he recalled the prayer-for-peace vigil he held on 8th June, in the Vatican Gardens, with Israel’s President Shimon Perez and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. In spite of what some people may think now, he said, that prayer “was not in vain”.
“Together we invoked the gift of peace and heard the call to break the spiral of hate and violence”, he stated. “It is precisely prayer that can help us to not allow ourselves to be overcome by evil, or resign ourselves and give violence and hate the upper hand over dialogue and reconciliation.”
His second appeal was to political leaders – “those with political responsibility”, in Israel and Palestine as well as internationally, especially the USA, the EU, Russia, the Arab States and the UN.
As he spoke, political leaders in many countries were beginning to move in a diplomatic way to bring a halt to the violence, well aware that if the conflict continues there is no predicting how it might spiral out of control, also within Israel itself.
“While not letting up on prayer”, he told political leaders they must “not spare any effort to bring an end to all hostilities and to seek the peace that is desired by all.”