(JTA) — In his second round of remarks since the start of the Israel-Hamas war, Pope Francis called for the release of the Israeli hostages taken by Hamas.
“I continue to follow, with pain and apprehension, what is happening in Israel and Palestine. So many people killed and others wounded,” the pope said, speaking in St. Peter’s Square at the end of his weekly audience in the Vatican.
“I pray for those families who saw a feast day turn into a day of mourning, and I ask that the hostages be immediately released,” he added.
Pope Francis also said Israel has a right to defend itself while expressing concern about its siege on Gaza.
“It is the right of those who are attacked to defend themselves,” he said. “But I am very worried by the total siege in which Palestinians live in Gaza, where there have also been many innocent victims.”
Since the Hamas attack launched Saturday, the death toll in Israel has reached 1,300, with more than 3,000 people injured, according to Israeli government figures. The Israel Defense Forces announced Thursday that it had confirmed the identities of 97 hostages taken to Gaza.
In Gaza, retaliatory airstrikes from Israel have killed 1,417 Palestinians and wounded more than 6,250, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry.
Few people in Israel or Gaza regard the pope, the head of the Catholic Church, as a religious leader. Still, the pope’s words are considered by many as something of a moral compass for humanity.
Pope Francis’ remarks Wednesday follow his earlier remarks Sunday, where he called for deescalation, expressed solidarity with the relatives of the victims and said he was praying for “all those who are experiencing hours of terror and anguish.”
“Terrorism and extremism do not help reach a solution to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians but fuel hatred, violence, revenge and cause suffering for both sides,” he said Wednesday. “The Middle East does not need war but peace, a peace built on justice, on dialogue and on the courage to be fraternal.”