Israeli President Reuven Rivlin condemned Hamas on an official visit to the Vatican and Rome on Thursday.

In a private meeting with Pope Francis at the Apostolic Palace, Rivlin said, “Hamas has repeatedly led to a severe escalation time and again, while callously exploiting the plight of the residents of the Gaza Strip.”

He said, “Israel does not want an escalation or to hurt innocent civilians, but will not stand by while Hamas undermines stability and our civilians are harmed.”

Rivlin was referring to the firing of more than 450 rockets and mortar ‎‎shells on Israel’s south starting ‎from Monday afternoon and continuing overnight to Tuesday morning, ‎killing one person and wounding ‎‎55 in the worst ‎flare-up in the area since ‎‎2014.‎

Rivlin said that before any agreement could be reached with the terrorist organization, Hamas must first return the two Israeli civilians it is holding captive and the bodies of two Israel Defense Forces’ soldiers killed in 2014’s “Operation Protective Edge.”

A U.N.- and Egyptian-brokered ceasefire went into effect late Tuesday afternoon.

According to a press statement, Rivlin also praised the pope’s “absolute condemnation of acts of anti-Semitism and your definition of such acts as anti-Christian,” which the Israeli leader called “a significant step in the ongoing fight to stamp it out.”

In their meeting, Rivlin also expressed his gratitude for the friendly relations between Israel and the Catholic Church to the pope.

In a statement, the Holy See said Rivlin and Francis discussed the creation of conducive conditions for resuming Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, in addition to the “Jerusalem question, in its religious and human dimension for Jews, Christians and Muslims, as well as the importance of safeguarding its identity and vocation as [the] City of Peace.”