Following last Sunday’s heartfelt appeal for continued prayer for peace in the Holy Land, this morning the Pontiff called President Shimon Peres of Israel and President Mahmoud Abbas of Palestine to share his "serious concerns" regarding the conflict in Gaza, where more than 250 people have been killed.
The Israeli military has been stepping up its 11-day military operation, launching a ground offensive against Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip last night. The Israeli raids come in response to the missiles that the Palestinian Muslim extremist group Hamas has been launching at Israel, often from tops of hospitals or schools.
The Vatican press office vice-director, Father Ciro Benedettini, told journalists in the press room this afternoon that the Pope called Peres at 10 a.m., and Abbas at 11:30 a.m.
"In a climate of growing hostility, hatred and suffering between the two populations, this conflict is claiming many victims and giving rise to a serious humanitarian emergency," the Vatican said in a statement.
"As during his recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land and on the occasion of the invocation for peace on June 8, the Holy Father assured the leaders of his ceaseless prayer, and that of all the Church, for peace in the Holy Land," it added.
The Vatican said the Pope reminded the presidents, "whom he considers to be men and seekers of peace, of the need to continue to pray."
"Endeavor to ensure that all interested parties and those holding political office at local and international levels work to bring an end to hostilities, making efforts to promote truce, peace and reconciliation in the hearts of those involved," the Pontiff urged.
Home to 1.7 million people, Gaza is 25 mile long enclave bordered by the Mediterranean Sea, Israel and Egypt. (D.C.L.)