Pope monitoring Gaza situation with calls to local priest

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis is following the situation in Gaza after the latest flare-up of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with regular calls to the local Catholic priest, Vatican media reported on Tuesday.

Gaza’s parish priest Gabriel Romanelli has received two phone calls from Francis since hostilities started at the weekend with an attack on Israel by Hamas Islamist militants in which more than 1,000 died.

The pope “expressed his closeness and his prayers” and “we thanked him for his appeal for a ceasefire and against all violence, all terrorism and all wars,” Romanelli told the Vatican News website.

Romanelli, who was speaking from Bethlehem, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, said Francis was also planning to call his deputy in Gaza, where about 150 displaced families are being looked after by the local Catholic Church.

On Sunday, Pope Francis called for an end to attacks and violence in both Israel and Gaza, saying terrorism and war would only bring further suffering and death to innocent people.

Israel’s ambassador to the Vatican told Reuters on Monday: “I understand the Vatican wants peace. We all want peace. But I would like to hear stronger words about Israel’s right to defend itself.”

(Reporting by Federico Maccioni, editing by Alvise Armellini and Sharon Singleton)