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 CNS Story:

POPE-GAZA Dec-29-2008 (470 words) With photos. xxxi

Pope deplores escalating violence in Gaza

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI deplored the latest escalation of violence in Gaza, following Israeli airstrikes that left nearly 300 people dead.

Addressing pilgrims at his noon blessing at the Vatican Dec. 28, the pope urged serious dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians as the only way out of the "perverse logic of conflict and violence."

He called for a restoration of the truce in Gaza, and said the international community has a particular responsibility to leave nothing untried in helping both sides out of the current "blind alley."

"I am deeply saddened for the dead, the wounded, the material damage, and the sufferings and tears of the people who are the victims of this tragic sequence of attacks and reprisals," the pope said.

"The earthly homeland of Jesus cannot continue to be a witness to such bloodshed, which is repeated without end! I implore the end of this violence, which must be condemned in all its forms, and a restoration of the truce in the Gaza Strip," he said.

The pope called for a fresh demonstration of "humanity and wisdom in everyone who has responsibility in the situation."

His plea came after Israeli warplanes pounded targets in Gaza for three days, striking ministries and facilities of Hamas, the Palestinian paramilitary organization that runs the Gaza Strip. In addition to the dead, officials said at least 600 people were wounded, stretching the territory's medical facilities to the breaking point.

Israel staged the attacks in reprisal for recent rocket attacks from Gaza into Israeli territory. Last year, Israel instituted a closure of Gaza following an escalation of Palestinian missile attacks into Israeli border towns. The closure has plunged Gaza into an economic crisis, hindering basic social services and fueling a growing sense of frustration among the population.

Pope Benedict hopes to visit the Holy Land next May, and Israeli and Vatican officials recently began planning for the papal program there. But Vatican sources have said a worsening of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict could alter the pope's travel plans.

The Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, told Vatican Radio Dec. 27 that the latest escalation of violence was a provocation by both sides, and showed that both Hamas and Israel were caught up in a mentality of conflict.

"Hamas is a prisoner of a logic of hatred, Israel of a logic of trusting in force as the best response to hatred. They need to keep looking for a different way out, even if it seems impossible," Father Lombardi said.

The spokesman said Israel's attack on Gaza was notable for its intensity and the number of victims.

"Certainly it will be a very hard blow for Hamas. At the same time, it's quite probable that there will be innocent victims, in fact many of them; hatred will increase and the hopes for peace will once again fade," he said.


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