Pope expresses 'deep concern' over Israel-Palestinian violence
This photo taken and issued as a handout on April 9, 2023 by the Vatican Media shows Pope Francis wave after he delivered the Urbi et Orbi message and blessing for Easter from the loggia of St. Peter's basilica overlooking St. Peter's square in The Vatican. (Photo by Handout / VATICAN MEDIA / AFP)
(AFP) - Pope Francis noted his "deep concern" on Sunday over a flare-up in tensions between Israel and Palestinians, delivering an Easter Mass in which he denounced the barriers to peace in the world.
He said the renewed violence "threatens the desired climate of trust and mutual respect needed to resume dialogue", addressing a crowd of some 100,000 gathered in Saint Peter's Square.
The Argentine pontiff, a week after leaving hospital, also cited a string of "stumbling blocks" to peace in the world during his traditional Easter message, making special mention of the war in Ukraine.
"Help the beloved Ukrainian people on their journey towards peace, and shed the light of Easter upon the people of Russia," he said.
"Comfort the wounded and all those who have lost loved ones because of the war, and grant that prisoners may return safe and sound to their families."
He drew attention to conflicts around the world, from Syria to the Democratic Republic of Congo, and offered prayers for victims of the earthquake in Turkey and Syria.
- Call for peace -
This week has seen a surge in violence and unrest between Israel and Palestinians at the same time as the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, Jewish Passover and Christian Easter have coincided.
The pope called for a resumption in dialogue to ensure peace "in the Holy City (of Jerusalem) and in the entire region".
On Wednesday, Israeli police stormed the prayer hall of Al-Aqsa mosque, Islam's third-holiest site, in a pre-dawn raid aimed at dislodging "law-breaking youths and masked agitators" they said had barricaded themselves inside.
The next day, more than 30 rockets were fired from Lebanese soil into Israel, which the Israeli army blamed on Palestinian groups, saying it was most likely Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip.
Israel then bombarded Gaza and southern Lebanon, targeting "terror infrastructures" that it said belonged to Hamas.
On Friday, two separate attacks left an Italian tourist and two British-Israeli sisters dead, and several injured, in Tel Aviv and the West Bank.
On Sunday, Israel launched artillery strikes on Syria in retaliation for rockets the army said were fired from there onto Israeli territory.
- Health concerns -
The 86-year-old pope has returned to his duties after a recent stay in hospital following a bout of bronchitis.
On Saturday evening, he presided over the Vigil mass in Saint Peter's Basilica in the Vatican, a two-and-a-half-hour ceremony performed before 8,000 people.
On Friday evening, however, he stayed away from the Good Friday "Way of the Cross" service as a precaution because of the intense cold, the Vatican said. It was the first time he had missed the ceremony during his papacy, which began in 2013.
Francis was discharged from a Rome hospital on April 1 after a three-night stay for a bronchial infection. The pontiff has suffered several health issues in recent years, and it was his second stay in hospital since 2021.
Pope Francis has participated in various events since his hospital release, including washing the feet of 12 young prisoners on Holy Thursday.
© Agence France-Presse