Pope Francis called Wednesday for the immediate release of hostages taken in fighting between Hamas and Israel, and expressed his concern over the siege of Gaza.
“I ask that the hostages be released immediately,” the 86-year-old head of the worldwide Catholic Church said at the end of his weekly audience at the Vatican.
He added: “It is the right of those who are attacked to defend themselves, but I am very worried about the total siege in which the Palestinians live in Gaza, where there have also been many innocent victims.
“Terrorism and extremism do not help reach a solution to the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians, but fuel hatred, violence, revenge and only make both sides suffer.
“The Middle East does not need war but peace, a peace built on justice, dialogue and the courage of fraternity.”
The death toll from five days of ferocious fighting between Hamas and Israel rose sharply overnight as Israel kept up its bombardment of Gaza Wednesday.
In Israel, the death toll from Saturday’s shock cross-border assault by Hamas militants rose to 1,200, making it the deadliest attack in the country’s 75-year history.
Meanwhile Gaza officials reported more than 900 people killed as Israel pounded the territory with air strikes.