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Pope Francis Calls for Peace and Justice in Shadow of Israel-Hamas War

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Dec 25, 2023

Pope Francis delivered an impassioned appeal for peace in the Holy Land on Christmas Eve, lamenting the “futile logic of war” as conflict rages between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza. Speaking to thousands gathered at St. Peter’s Basilica, the pope decried the suffering of innocent people and called for political leaders to have the courage to seek dialogue.

Pope Decries “Futility of War” in Annual Christmas Eve Homily

In his annual “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and the world) Christmas blessing, Pope Francis lamented the “futility of war” raging in the Holy Land. “The Child Jesus is our peace…yet all around us we see more weapons and increasingly ferocious conflicts,” he said.

The pope appealed directly to Israeli and Palestinian authorities, telling them that “peace is possible if we return to talking to one another, if rivalries and complaints do not prevail over dialogue and the common good.” He asked the international community to facilitate this dialogue and find solutions enabling “Israelis and Palestinians to recover trust reciprocal and dwell side by side in peace.”

Francis prayed for victims on both sides of the conflict, naming the grievously wounded and those forced to flee their homes. “Our hearts are in Bethlehem tonight…together with the many people who do not lose hope and continue courageously to build peace,” he said.

Key Quotes from Pope Francis
“May [Christ] inspire political leaders to have the courage to look beyond partisan politics…and to seek dialogue and not conflict.”
“Our hope is that Israelis and Palestinians return to talking directly to one another, without intermediaries, in an honest way.”
“Those who trust in the vain logic of weapons and terror are far from the squalor of the cave in Bethlehem.”

The pope’s words come as the deadliest round of fighting in years grips the Gaza Strip. What began on December 12 as a limited operation against the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group has expanded into a full-blown war between Israel and Hamas. Over 200 Palestinians have been killed in the violence, including dozens of civilians, prompting international calls for restraint.

Christmas Overshadowed by Specter of War in Bethlehem

The pope’s tradition Christmas Eve Mass was more somber than usual this year, overshadowed by war raging just miles from Jesus’s biblical birthplace in Bethlehem.

Only a few thousand locals and foreign pilgrims gathered in Manger Square, with tourism stifled by violence and travel restrictions. Even the Christmas tree lighting was canceled. Those attending midnight Mass prayed for the violence to end so life could return to normal.

Bethlehem’s mayor lamented the small crowds after two years of COVID-related disruptions to Christmas celebrations. “It affects the good news. It affects Bethlehem, it affects the birth city of Jesus,” he said.

During the homily, Latin Patriarch Pierbattista Pizzaballa prayed “for the capacity, wisdom and resolve to work for peace and justice so that episodes of death and destruction will never happen again.”

Christmas Attendance in Bethlehem
2020: canceled due to COVID pandemic
2021: hundreds due to omicron travel curbs
**2022: thousands due to Israel-Hamas war **

The latest conflict has dimmed hopes for a more joyous Christmas after severe pandemic disruptions the previous two years largely kept visitors away. Now locals face economic losses from refunded hotel and flight bookings.

Bethlehem has seen renewed tensions in recent months, with the Israeli military carrying out frequent raids and clashes erupting between armed groups. The violence has dampened what is normally the busiest time of year for tourism and business.

International Leaders Echo Call for Deescalation

World leaders echoed Pope Francis’s pleas for calm and restraint in the conflict.

In his annual Christmas message, Britain’s King Charles III remarked that Jesus’s core message entails “loving your neighbor as yourself,” wishing “for all people around the world who follow this shining example to know the joy of coming together in a spirit of friendship and reconciliation.”

U.S. President Joe Biden called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday, underscoring Israel’s right to defend itself while encouraging deescalation. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken will travel to the region this week to support ceasefire efforts.

The U.N. Security Council issued a statement Sunday expressing “grave concern regarding the crisis related to Gaza,” calling for deescalation and reiterating support for a negotiated two-state solution. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres likewise appealed to leaders to “immediately cease hostilities” and “avoid any action that could further escalate tensions.”

Prospects for Peace Look Dim Amid Netanyahu’s Hawkish Stance

While the pope and other world leaders clamor for peace, the conflict’s end remains elusive as Israel and Hamas dig in. Israel insists that its Gaza operation will continue for as long as necessary, while Hamas leaders declare readiness for a prolonged confrontation.

At the helm of Israel’s new conservative coalition government, Prime Minister Netanyahu has adopted a hardline stance toward Palestinian militant groups. His administration passed a series of punitive measures in response to rising violence emanating from the West Bank, signaling no intention of easing pressure.

With Netanyahu relying on far-right lawmakers for his razor-thin parliamentary majority, analysts say political dynamics constrain his ability to relent or engage constructively with Palestinian interlocutors.

On the Palestinian side, Hamas authorities in Gaza have replenished their arsenal since the last major conflict in 2021 and appear intent on using it to bolster their standing vis-a-vis the rival Fatah party in the West Bank. Continued intermittent rocket fire toward Israeli border towns will likely trigger further retaliation.

Barring a drastic and unforeseen shift, observers lament vanishing hopes for reviving moribund peace talks or improving Israeli-Palestinian ties more broadly. Hence despite the pope’s impassioned appeals, the Holy Land seems doomed to suffer further bloodshed and hatred this Christmas season and beyond.

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By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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