By Philip Pullella
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) -Pope Francis will meet separately next week with relatives of hostages held by Hamas militants and with a group of Palestinians with family members in Gaza, the Vatican said on Friday, confirming a Reuters report.
“With these meetings, which are of an exclusively humanitarian character, Pope Francis wants to show his spiritual closeness to the sufferings of both,” Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said in a statement.
The meetings will be held on Wednesday in the Vatican.
“Every human being, whether Christian, Jew or Muslim, of any people or religion, every human being is sacred, is precious in God’s eyes and has a right to live in peace,” the statement said, quoting from a talk the pope gave on Sunday.
Three sources who spoke to Reuters earlier on Friday about the meetings did so on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to discuss papal plans.
One source said 12 relatives of Israeli hostages would meet the pope early on Wednesday morning before his weekly general audience.
That source said they would be a mix of relatives who met with Italian leaders last month as well as others who were not among the first group.
One of the two sources who spoke about the Palestinian meeting said the pope wanted to hold the meetings as a “humanitarian gesture to hear the grievances on both sides”.
He said the initiative was the pope’s idea.
The Vatican’s number two, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, said earlier on Friday the Holy See believed the release of the hostages and a ceasefire – which Israel has so far ruled out – were two “fundamental points” to resolve the crisis.
Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a conference in Rome, Parolin said the Vatican was working on a meeting between the pope and relatives of the hostages but gave no time frame.
“We are working on it and hope to realise it as soon as possible,” he said. He did not mention the Palestinian meeting.
“The release of the hostages is one of the fundamental points for the solution of the current situation, taking into consideration the humanitarian aspects of those who are being held – men, women, children, newborns, pregnant women,” said Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State.
About 240 hostages were taken by Hamas gunmen when they stormed into southern Israel on Oct. 7.
Francis has made numerous appeals for their release and for a ceasefire.
“The other (fundamental point) is a ceasefire, taking into consideration the humanitarian aspects that come with it – the arrival of aid, curing the injured and other aspects,” Parolin said.
U.N. aid deliveries to Gaza were suspended again on Friday due to shortages of fuel and a communications shutdown, deepening the misery of thousands of hungry and homeless Palestinians as Israeli troops battled Hamas militants.
Israel agreed on Friday evening to let fuel trucks into Gaza and promised “no limitation” on aid requested by the U.N., after warnings that its siege of the enclave would cause starvation and disease.
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Gareth Jones, Jonathan Oatis and Toby Chopra)