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‘This is terrorism,’ pope says after meetings with Israeli and Palestinian families

The Israelis asked the pontiff to issue a clear call for the release of all the roughly 240 people held by Hamas.

Pope Francis meets at the Vatican with relatives of Israelis held captive in the Gaza Strip, Nov. 22, 2023. Photo by Yair Rotem.
Pope Francis meets at the Vatican with relatives of Israelis held captive in the Gaza Strip, Nov. 22, 2023. Photo by Yair Rotem.

Pope Francis met separately on Wednesday with relatives of Israeli hostages in the Gaza Strip and a delegation of Palestinians and begged for an end to terrorism and suffering while issuing a renewed plea for peace.

The meetings were arranged before the agreement with Hamas on a hostage exchange deal and a temporary halt in fighting was announced.

The Israeli families asked the head of the Catholic Church to issue a clear call for the release of all the roughly 240 people held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

“When I started to tell my father’s story, the pope stopped me and pointed out that he had heard about my father and his work as one of the first leaders of the March of the Living trips to Poland,” said Yuval Danzig, whose 75-year-old father, Alex, was among those kidnapped in the Oct. 7 attack. “After that, I couldn’t continue talking.”

After the meetings Francis said, “Here we’ve gone beyond war. This isn’t war anymore, this is terrorism. Please, let us go ahead with peace. Pray for peace, pray a lot for peace.”

He asked for God to help both Israelis and Palestinians “resolve problems and not go ahead with passions that are killing everyone in the end.”

At the end of the meeting with the Israelis, the pontiff warmly shook the hands of all the participants and emphasized that he would do everything in his power to help, the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem said.

“As the spiritual leader of approximately 1.3 billion believers around the world, the pope’s statements about the need to release the abductees carry significant international resonance,” Israeli Ambassador to the Vatican Raphael Schutz said.

“In addition, the connections that he has developed with religious leaders in the Muslim world over the course of more than 10 years as pope may assist in this humanitarian effort on a religious basis, and not necessarily a political one,” Schutz added.

On Tuesday, the families of the abductees met with Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Antonio Tajani and Minister of Culture Gennaro Sangiuliano, who expressed support and solidarity with the families and called for the immediate release of all the abductees in Gaza.

Last month, Francis called for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas during his weekly Sunday address in Saint Peter’s Square in Vatican City.

“In Gaza, spaces must be left to guarantee humanitarian aid and the hostages must be released immediately,” the pope said. “Cease fire! Cease fire! Stop, brothers and sisters. War is always a defeat.”

He also condemned antisemitism, war and terrorism in a meeting with European rabbis at the Vatican earlier this month.

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