Pope Francis Urges Israelis, Palestinians to 'Say No to Hatred'

'Peace in the Holy Land is more crucial than ever,' pope tells crowd congregated for Sunday's prayer in Vatican.

AFP

Pope Francis called Sunday on Israelis and Palestinians to have the "courage and fortitude to say no to hatred and make gestures of peace," after violence continued in the West Bank and in Jerusalem over the weekend.

Francis, who made the statements in the Vatican's Saint Peter's Square during the Angelus prayer, said that he follows "with great concern the situation of tension and violence that plagues the Holy Land," AFP reported.

The pope also said that he prayed to God to "strengthen in all, rulers and citizens, the courage to oppose violence and to take concrete steps to ease tensions." Francis added that "peace in the Holy Land is more crucial than ever," considering the current situation in the Middle East.

The terror wave started over two weeks ago, when a suspected Hamas cell shot dead Naama and Eitam Henkin who were driving with their four children near the settlement of Elon Moreh in the West Bank. Eight Israelis have been killed in Palestinian attacks, most of them stabbings. Some 38 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire, including 18 suspected terrorists, and the rest in clashes with Israeli troops.

On Friday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, and the two agreed to meet next week in Berlin in order to discuss ways to stop the escalation in Jerusalem and restore calm. 

Kerry, who left on Friday for a European visit that will last several days, said he on Sunday he will hold a similar meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Over the weekend, three Israeli officers were wounded in separate terror attacks in and around Hebron. Four Palestinian assailants were shot dead during alleged knife attacks on Saturday, including two in the capital.

Meanwhile, senior Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar said in a sermon during Friday prayers in Gaza that the “intifada has started, and we don’t know where it will end. We all hope it will beat the occupation, since that is a divine promise. The confrontation with the occupation is a divine matter, and written in the Koran. Anyone who thinks the resistance against the occupation is coming from Gaza alone is delusional – the resistance is coming from all of Palestine.”

A member of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, Fatah’s military arm, said in an interview aired by the Palestinian news agency Ma’an on Friday that the group will join the fight against Israel. So far, the Palestinian factions haven’t participated in the escalation. It is unclear how binding the statement is by the brigades member, whose rank and name weren’t revealed, but it is likely to increase pressure on the Palestinian leadership to take action.