Israeli- Hamas war: Pope Francis meets relatives of Hamas hostages, Palestinian prisoners

Pope Francis on Wednesday met separately with relatives of Israeli hostages in Gaza and of Palestinian prisoners in Israel, saying both sides “suffer so much”.

At the end of his weekly audience at the Vatican, the 86-year-old pontiff revealed he had received two delegations, “one of Israelis who have relatives as hostages in Gaza, and another of Palestinians who have relatives held prisoner in Israel”.

“They suffer a lot and I heard how they both suffer,” he said, urging those gathered in St Peter’s Square to pray for peace.

Wars do this, but here we have gone beyond wars. This is not war, this is terrorism,” he said, without specifying whether he was referring to the October 7 attack on Israel by Palestinian militant group Hamas, Israel’s military operation in Gaza launched in response, or both.

The Vatican said last week the pope hoped to show his “spiritual closeness” during the private meetings, which it said would be “exclusively humanitarian in nature”.

It cited the pope’s recent comments that “every human being, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, of any people or religion, every human being is sacred, is precious in the eyes of God and has the right to live in peace”.

Israel and Hamas announced a deal on Wednesday allowing at least 50 hostages and scores of Palestinian prisoners to be freed, while offering besieged Gaza residents a four-day truce after weeks of all-out war.

Hamas gunmen carried out on October 7 a cross-border attack, the worst in Israel’s history, that left around 1,200 people dead, most of them civilians, according to the Israeli government.

Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups also took an estimated 240 Israelis and foreigners hostage, among them elderly people and young children.

In retaliation, Israel launched a major bombing campaign and ground offensive in Gaza, which the Hamas government said has killed 14,100 people, mostly civilians and thousands of them children.

Culled from Vanguard