Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Pope calls Gaza war ‘terrorism,’ but Vatican denies he said ‘genocide’

Pope Francis appeals for Israel-Palestine peace, reconciliation talks -  Prensa Latina

In the wake of two keenly anticipated meetings between Pope Francis and delegations of both Israelis and Palestinians, the Vatican has denied that the pope referred to the ongoing conflict in Gaza as “a genocide,” despite claims from Palestinians who met the pontiff that he had done so.

Speaking during his Nov. 22 general audience, which took place after the meetings, Francis did clearly refer to the Israel-Hamas war as “terrorism,” and repeated his pleas for prayer and for peacemaking efforts.

In those remarks, he asked faithful to pray for those suffering due to war and violent conflict throughout the world, including Ukraine and the Holy Land.

He noted that prior to his general audience, he met with a delegation of 12 relatives of Israeli hostages taken by Hamas during their Oct. 7 surprise offensive on Israel, during which 1,400 were killed and 240 abducted, and 10 relatives of Palestinian prisoners in Israel.

“They suffer a lot, and I heard how both of them suffer: wars do this, but here we have gone beyond wars, this is not waging war, this is terrorism,” he said.

Francis asked for efforts to be made on behalf of peace and urged the faithful to pray for peace and an end to war.

“May the Lord put his and there, may the Lord help us to resolve problems and not go forward with the passions that ultimately kill everyone. We pray for the Palestinian people, we pray for the Israeli people, for peace to come,” he said.

Following the pope’s general audience, members of both the Israeli and Palestinian delegations held press conferences on their meetings with the pope.

One member of the Israeli delegation took issue with Pope Francis’s use of the word “terrorism” to describe the war, saying it is a “false equivalence,” suggesting that Francis was equating Hamas terrorism with legitimate Israeli self-defense.

Members of the Palestinian delegation, meanwhile, said Pope Francis in his meeting with them condemned Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel but said that what is happening in Gaza amounts to “genocide,” and that “one cannot respond to terrorism with terrorism.”

Shrine Halil, a Christian from Bethlehem who took part in the meeting, said, “The pope recognized that we are living a genocide.”

Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni, however, denied the pope’s use of the term genocide, saying, “I don’t think he used that word,” and that instead the pope repeated “the terms with which he expressed himself during the general audience and words which nevertheless represent the terrible situation experienced in Gaza.”

The Palestinian delegation, however insisted on the pope’s use of the word, with one member saying at their press briefing, “There were ten of us, and we all heard it.”

They also invited Pope Francis to visit Gaza, and the pope reportedly responded by saying he would consult through diplomatic channels on a safe time to go.

Wednesday’s meetings came shortly after the announcement that Israel and Hamas have reached an agreement for a temporary 4-day truce and the release of at least 50 of the hostages abducted by Hamas in exchange for the release of 150 underage Palestinian women in Israeli prisons.

According to Hamas official Abu Marzouk, most of the Israeli hostages to be released hold foreign citizenship, but did not specify whether they also had Israeli citizenship, while Israel has insisted that the hostages will all be Israeli citizens or residents.

In a brief statement on the temporary ceasefire, Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, said “we are happy with the news (of truce) and hope that this will lead to further positive development that will bring the conflict to a conclusion.”

Pope Francis in a Nov. 22 video appeal for peace in the Holy Land and in the world lamented that since the end of the Second World War, wars have continued to erupt in many parts of the world.

“When they are far away from us, we do not feel them as much,” he said, however, “Today there are two very near that force us to react: Ukraine and the Holy Land.”

The current conflict in the Holy Land “is very painful. It is very painful,” he said, saying both the Israeli and Palestinian people “have the right to peace.”

“These two fraternal peoples have the right to live in peace,” he said, and urged believers to pray for peace in the region and to pray “that the difficulties resolve themselves in dialogue and negotiation and not with a mountain of dead on each side.”