Pope Francis calls for Hamas to release all Israeli hostages immediately

Pope Francis called for the immediate release of the Israeli hostages who were violently kidnapped and are being held by Palestinian terrorist group Hamas, Catholic News Agency reports. In a statement Wednesday, the pope also expressed his concerns for civilians living in the Gaza Strip.

He read to thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square: “I continue to follow, with pain and apprehension, what is happening in Israel and Palestine. So many people killed, and others wounded. I pray for those families who have seen a day of celebration turned into a day of mourning, and ask that the hostages be immediately released.

“It is the right of those who are attacked to defend themselves, but I am very concerned about the total siege in which Palestinians live in Gaza, where there have also been many innocent victims.

“Terrorism and extremism do not help reach a solution to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, but rather feel hatred, violence, revenge and only make both sides suffer.

“The Middle East does not need war, but peace: a peace built on justice, dialogue and the courage of fraternity.

Around 130 hostages were taken by Hamas terrorists that ambushed southern Israel. Since then, the terrorist group has stated that they will execute hostages on livestream “without warning” if Israel performs further counterattacks on the Gaza Strip where civilians reside.

While Israel has been warning Gazan civilians to evacuate central areas, the “roof knocking” policy, where the IDF will use texts, calls or strikes on rooftops to warn residents to evacuate specific buildings is only being used in certain circumstances, a senior Israeli government source has reported.

The pope’s statement comes after pressure from Israel on the Vatican to have a firmer stance, noting that previous statements have been too weak.

Pope Francis prayed Sunday for peace between Israel and Palestine, stating that “violence has exploded more ferociously,” and declared “please stop weapons attacks!”

In response, Israel’s embassy warned the Vatican against “the use of linguistic ambiguities and terms that allude to a false symmetry” in a statement.

Raphael Schutz, Israel’s ambassador to the Vatican, told Reuters Monday: "I understand the Vatican wants peace. We all want peace. But I would like to hear stronger words about Israel's right to defend itself."

The Israeli death toll reached 1,200 on Wednesday with 2,700 wounded. It is reported that 950 Gazans have been killed in retaliatory airstrikes while 5000 have been injured.

Image: Title: Pope Francis