ROME – Israel’s top diplomat has demanded that the Vatican issue a “clear and unequivocal” condemnation of the terrorist attacks launched by Hamas, after remarks from Pope Francis Sunday in which he called for “respect for humanitarian law” and the creation of humanitarian corridors to allow aid to reach the Gaza Strip.
Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen made a phone call to British Archbishop Paul Gallagher Sunday evening to protest the language used by Pope Francis in his noontime Angelus address.
“It is unacceptable that you put out a statement expressing worry primarily for Gazan civilians while Israel is burying 1,300 who were murdered,” Cohen told Gallagher, according to a statement released by the Israeli Foreign Ministry.
According to the statement, Cohen also told Gallagher that Israel “expects the Vatican to come out with a clear and unequivocal condemnation of the murderous terrorist actions of Hamas terrorists who harmed women, children and the elderly for the sole fact that they are Jews and Israelis.”
“There’s no room for unfounded comparisons,” Cohen said. “Hamas, a terrorist organization worse than ISIS, invaded Israel with the intention of harming innocent civilians, while Israel is a democracy that’s trying to defend its citizens from Hamas.”
The protest came after Francis’s appeal at the end of his regular Angelus address, in which the pope once again expressed concern for the bloodshed.
“I continue to follow what’s happening in Israel and Palestine with great sorrow,” Francis said. “I think again of so many, in particular children and the elderly. I renew my appeal for the liberation of the hostages, and I ask strongly that children, the sick, the elderly, women and all civilians not be victims of the conflict.”
“Humanitarian law must be respected, above all in Gaza, where it’s urgent and necessary to guarantee humanitarian corridors and to protect the entire population,” the pope said. “Brothers and sisters, there are already so many dead. Please, don’t shed innocent blood, not in the Holy Land, or in Ukraine, on in any other place!”
“Enough!” the pope said. “Wars are always a defeat, always!”
Francis then echoed a call from Church leaders in the Holy Land to make tomorrow, Oct. 17, a day of prayer and fasting for peace.
The pope’s words came the same day that Israeli journalist Henrique Cymerman released a recording of a phone conversation with Pope Francis in which Cymerman told the pope that many Argentinians were among the victims of the Hamas attacks, including people who have been killed, injured and taken hostage.
“I know, I know,” the pope can he head saying. “I think that some of my friends are surely among them.”
In response to a request from Cymerman, Francis said he’d be happy to meet the families of Israeli-Argentinian victims of the conflict.
Cohen’s protest is part of growing objections from Israeli officials to the language some Church leaders have been using to characterize the violence in Gaza. On Saturday, Israeli Ambassador to the Holy See Raphael Schutz issued a series of messages on X objecting to an Oct. 13 statement from the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem which, among other things, called on Israel to allow humanitarian supplies to reach Gaza.
“The only party the patriarchs single out by name with a specific demand is Israel, the party that was viciously attacked a week ago,” Schutz said in one post. “What a shame, especially when this comes from people of God.”
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On the other hand, Schutz also expressed satisfaction in an interview with Crux after an Oct. 11 General Audience in which Pope Francis not only called for the release of hostages taken by Hamas but also recognized Israel’s right to a legitimate self-defense.
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Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State and the pope’s top diplomat, has volunteered the Vatican’s services as a mediator in the conflict, but to date there seems little interest in the offer. After a visit by Parolin to the Israeli embassy to the Holy See on Friday, Schutz called such an idea “premature” in remarks to the German news agency KNA.
“Unfortunately, now is not the time to negotiate,” Schutz said. “We must first fight and win this war.”