In wake of the rising death toll in Gaza due to increased tensions between Israel and Palestine, Pope Francis made a personal call to both presidents in order to ask for peace. “Following last Sunday’s heartfelt appeal for continued prayer for peace in the Holy Land, this morning the Holy Father Francis personally telephoned President Shimon Peres and President Mahmoud Abbas,” a July 18 statement from the Vatican read. During the calls, the Roman Pontiff voiced “his very serious concerns regarding the current situation of conflict involving in particular the Gaza Strip which, in a climate of growing hostility, hatred and suffering for the two populations, is claiming many victims and giving rise to a serious humanitarian emergency.” Tensions between Israel and Palestine have steadily increased in recent weeks following the murder of three Israeli teenagers, whose bodies were discovered June 30. The day of their funeral, the body of a Palestinian teenager was found, whose death was seen as a retaliation killing. Israel and Palestinian organization Hamas, seen as a terrorist group whom Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has faulted for murder of the three Jewish teenagers, have continued to exchange rocket and mortar fire despite numerous calls for a ceasefire. The Vatican statement reveals that in his phone conversations with President Peres and President Abbas, Pope Francis assured of “his ceaseless prayer and that of all the Church for peace in the Holy Land.” “He reminded the presidents, whom he considers to be men of peace and seekers of peace, of the need to continue to pray and endeavor to ensure that all the interested parties and those who hold political office at local and international level work to bring an end to hostilities, making efforts to promote a truce, peace and reconciliation in the hearts of those involved.” According to BBC News, Gaza officials report that roughly 267 Palestinians — mostly civilians — have died since the start of the wider Israeli operation July 8, while one Israeli has been killed and several seriously injured. Last night Israel launched a ground offensive, sending thousands of troops into Gaza on foot who were backed by both tanks and artillery fire. Among the at least 24 Palestinians and one Israeli soldier who have been killed since the launch of the ground attack are three Palestinian children, who were killed by Israeli tank fire in the north of Gaza, BBC reports. Pope Francis’ personal phone call to the presidents follows a June 8 Invocation for Peace held in the Vatican Gardens that gathered all three together along with the Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartolomeo I. Pope Francis also made a desperate plea for peace during his Sunday Angleus address July 13, urging all parties and “those who have political responsibility at local and international levels to spare a prayer and make some effort to put an end to all hostilities and to achieve the desired peace for the good of all.” “Now, Lord, help us! Grant us peace, teach us peace, guide us toward peace. Open our eyes and our hearts and give us the courage to say: ‘Never again war!’ ‘Everything is destroyed by war.” Although the current tensions in the Holy Land have arisen only a month after the invocation for peace at the Vatican, Pope Francis affirmed that it was not in vain. “No, because prayer helps us not to allow ourselves to be overcome by evil, nor resign ourselves to violence and hatred taking over dialogue and reconciliation.” He prayed that the Lord give to all the strength and courage “to take concrete actions to build peace...make us willing to listen to the cry of our citizens who are asking us to transform our weapons into instruments of peace, our fears into trust, and our tensions into forgiveness.”
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