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POPE-GAZA (UPDATED) Nov-21-2012 (480 words) With photos posted Nov. 19, 20 and 21. xxxi

Pope condemns escalating Gaza conflict, calls for truce, talks


Smoke rises after an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City Nov. 20. (CNS/Reuters)

By Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI condemned escalating hostilities between Israel and the Palestinians, saying hatred and violence are never an appropriate solution to problems.

He also called for greater efforts to promote a truce and peace negotiations.

"I am following with great concern the escalation of violence between Israelis and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip," the pope said at the end of his general audience Nov. 21.

"Hatred and violence are not the solution to problems," he said to applause from those gathered in the Paul VI hall.

"I encourage the initiatives and efforts of those who are seeking to establish a cease-fire and to promote negotiations," he said.

He also called on leaders on both sides of the conflict to make "courageous decisions in favor of peace and put an end to a conflict that has negative repercussions throughout the entire Middle East region, which is already troubled by too many conflicts and is in need of peace and reconciliation."

The pope expressed his closeness to victims and all those suffering because of the violence.

His appeal came as both sides in the conflict launched fresh attacks.

Just hours before the pope spoke, a bomb exploded on a bus in Tel Aviv, wounding at least 10 people.

That attack followed a weeklong Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip aimed at stopping rocket strikes by Palestinian militants.

More than 140 Palestinians and at least five Israelis have been killed since Israel launched its offensive.

In the United States, the chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace urged the U.S. to provide leadership to end the violence and retaliation unfolding in the region.

"An immediate cease-fire must be negotiated as a precondition so that leaders on both sides can give Israelis and Palestinians hope for a different future free of fear and full of promise," Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, said in a Nov. 20 letter to National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon. The USCCB released the text of the letter Nov. 21.

Bishop Pates wrote that Israel has a right to defend its citizens following "morally unjustifiable" rocket attacks from Gaza that killed Israeli civilians, but said its use of force must be proportionate and discriminate. He made note of the reported Palestinian death toll and the many who have been wounded.

The bishop also said the director of Caritas Jerusalem has been appealing for supplies to help the hospitals in Gaza that are "overwhelmed with casualties."

He said the continuing violence has "serious implications for the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict and for regional stability."

The bishop urged the U.S. government to work to end the latest violence "before it spirals further out of control."

"Violence will not bring peace to the region," he said. "It will only reinforce historic hurts and deepen divisions, making peace even more remote."

END


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