Saturday, March 23, 2019 | ePaper

Pope worried over Mideast violence

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AFP, Vatican City :
Pope Francis said Wednesday he was "very worried" by escalating violence in the Middle East after 60 Gazans were shot dead by Israeli troops while protesting the US embassy's move to Jerusalem.
"I am very worried about the escalation of tensions in the Holy Land and the Middle East, and about the spiral of violence which moves us ever further away from the path of peace, dialogue and negotiation," he said during his weekly audience at the Vatican.
"I express my great sorrow for the dead and wounded and I am close through prayer and affection to all those who suffer," he added.
Calling for "dialogue, justice and peace," Francis said violence "has never led to peace. War incites war, violence incites violence."
Israel has come under mounting international pressure after its forces opened fire on the Gaza border on Monday, killing 60 protesters who had massed alongside the fence to protest as the US moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. At least 2,400 other Palestinians were wounded in what was the bloodiest day of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since the 2014 Gaza war.
Francis has on several occasions expressed support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, indirectly criticising US President Donald Trump's decision to recognise Israel's claim to Jerusalem as its capital.
Jerusalem's status is perhaps the thorniest issue of the decades-long conflict, with Israeli claiming the entire Holy City as its capital while the Palestinians want the eastern sector as capital of their future state.
Israel occupied the West Bank and east Jerusalem during the 1967 Six Day War, later annexing the eastern sector of the city in a move never recognised by the international community.
British Prime Minister Theresa May called for restraint, saying "such violence is destructive to peace efforts".
French President Emmanuel Macron condemned the "violence of the Israeli armed forces against the protesters".
Ireland and Belgium summoned the Israeli envoys in their capitals, while South Africa recalled its ambassador to Israel.
Turkey has told Israel's ambassador to temporarily leave the country, while President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Israel of "state terror" and "genocide".
Israel hit back, ordering the Turkish consul in Jerusalem to leave for an unspecified period of time.
"Erdogan is one of the biggest supporters of Hamas, so there's no doubt he's an expert on terror and slaughter," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted.
Netanyahu also accused the Islamist movement Hamas which rules Gaza of deliberately putting civilian lives at risk for political gain.
"They (Hamas) are pushing civilians-women, children-into the line of fire with a view of getting casualties," Netanyahu told CBS.
"We've tried to minimise casualties; they are trying to incur casualties in order to put pressure on Israel which is horrible."
The US ambassador to the United Nations strongly defended Israel at an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council on the violence in Gaza.
"No country in this chamber would act with more restraint than Israel has," Nikki Haley said. "In fact the records of several countries here today suggest they would be much less restrained."
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas withdrew his top representative to the United States, Husam Zomlot, the foreign ministry announced, without saying for how long.
The United States has blocked the adoption of a Security Council statement that would have called for an independent probe into the violence, diplomats said.
In the Israeli-blockaded Gaza Strip, funerals were held for a second day.
Hundreds attended the funeral of Yazan Tubasi, 23, killed east of Gaza City.
"I am happy that my son is a martyr," said his father Ibrahim, 50, though he was crying uncontrollably.

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