“My heart grieves for the victims of the abominable attack of 7 October, and I reiterate my urgent appeal for the liberation of those still being held hostage,” the 86-year-old said in his traditional Urbi et Orbi message.
“I plead for an end to the military operations with their appalling harvest of innocent civilian victims, and call for a solution to the desperate humanitarian situation by an opening to the provision of humanitarian aid,” he told thousands of faithful gathered in Saint Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.
Nearly three months after the start of the war between Israel and Hamas, the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip is catastrophic according to the United Nations, with 85 percent of the population displaced.
The war began on October 7 when Hamas gunmen broke through Gaza’s militarised border and killed about 1,140 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures.
Palestinian militants abducted around 250 people, and according to Israeli authorities, 129 of them remain in Gaza.
Israel launched a military campaign against Hamas, vowing to destroy the organization. The conflict resulted in a relentless bombardment and ground invasion of Gaza, leading to the death of 20,424 people, predominantly women and children, as per the latest toll from Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry.
Access to Gaza is controlled by Israel, and despite aid trickling in from Egypt, the approved aid delivery via the Kerem Shalom crossing last week was insufficient to meet the needs in the devastated territory.
The Pope has called for the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through sincere and persevering dialogue between the parties, supported by strong political will and international community backing. In his Christmas Eve message, he emphasized the need for peace in the Holy Land, expressing concern over the rejection of the Prince of Peace in Bethlehem due to the ongoing conflict.
‘Peace for Ukraine’
The leader of 1.3 billion Catholics, in his address, mentioned conflicts in Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen, expressing prayers for the attainment of political and social stability in those regions.
Pope Francis also implored peace for Ukraine, which is celebrating Christmas on December 25 for the first time, deviating from the traditional Orthodox date of January 7 observed in Russia. He urged a renewal of spiritual and human closeness to the embattled people of Ukraine, emphasizing that through collective support, they may feel the tangible reality of God’s love.
The pope also appealed for peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan, longstanding rivals in a territorial dispute, emphasizing the importance of humanitarian initiatives, the safe return of refugees to their homes, and mutual respect for religious traditions and places of worship.
Pope Francis addressed conflicts in the Sahel, the Horn of Africa, Sudan, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and South Sudan, expressing hope for resolutions.
Regarding the Korean peninsula, he expressed a desire for tensions to be resolved through dialogue and reconciliation processes, paving the way for lasting peace.
In his concluding remarks, the pope focused on the Americas, urging people of goodwill to devise effective solutions for social and political conflicts, combat forms of poverty, reduce inequality, and address the complex issue of migration movements.