Pope sowed seed of peace last month; now it's time to water it, says nuncio.
With high hopes but low expectations, the U.S. stepped up calls Monday for an international push to end fighting in the Gaza Strip as President Barack Obama sent his top envoy to the Mideast to help broker a new cease-fire between Israel and Hamas militants — the third since 2009.
Voicing fresh concern about civilian casualties, Obama reaffirmed his belief that Israel has the right to defend itself against a barrage of more than 1,500 rockets being launched by Hamas.
Yet he said Israel’s military assault of Gaza had already done "significant damage" to Hamas’ network of tunnels, safe havens and other infrastructure, and said he doesn’t want to see more civilians getting killed.
"We have serious concerns about the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths and the loss of Israeli lives," Obama said in Washington. "And that is why it now has to be our focus and the focus of the international community to bring about a cease-fire that ends the fighting and can stop the deaths of innocent civilians, both in Gaza and in Israel."
As Obama spoke, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Cairo to join diplomatic efforts to resume a truce that last had been agreed to in November 2012. He will urge the militant Palestinian group to accept a cease-fire agreement offered by Egypt that would halt two weeks of fighting that has descended into war and killed at least 500 Palestinians and more than two-dozen Israelis.
Kerry headed almost immediately into a meeting with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, where he announced the U.S. will send $47 million in humanitarian aid for tens of thousands of Palestinians who have fled their homes in Gaza to escape the violence.
Ban, speaking to reporters before the meeting with Kerry, said, "Violence must stop and must stop now."
It’s not clear exactly what Israel and Hamas would each demand in return for agreeing to a truce now, but senior State Department officials said the issue of opening border crossings — potentially into Israel and Egypt — was under discussion.
"We will work to see if there is some way to not only arrive at a cease-fire of some kind but to get to a discussion about the underlying issues," Kerry said at the start of his meeting with Ban.
Having already deployed an estimated 1,000 ground troops, Israel’s military has pushed farther into Gaza than it had in 2012 and the conflict is farther along now than it was then. At the same time, the State officials noted, Hamas believes it was not given what it was promised in 2012 to lay down its arms, making it more skeptical of a cease-fire now.
Obama was not the only one calling for a cease-fire. On Sunday, Pope Francis renewed his appeal for dialogue and an end to the violence, according to Vatican Radio. And his words have had a major impact in the region, said the Holy See’s Nuncio to Israel and Apostolic Delegate in Jerusalem and Palestine, Archbishop Giuseppe Lazzarotto.
“Everyone has repeated the appeal of the Holy Father,” he said in an interview with Vatican Radio. “That’s what we all hope here because the situation is becoming truly tragic: there is a loss of human life that is not acceptable; we must put an end to violence because this creates other conflict situations. They open new wounds that continue to produce even more death. It is urgent that those responsible understand that there is no other path than that of dialogue and negotiation; stakeholders must be helped and should be brought to the negotiating table.”
Likewise, the Director General of Caritas Jerusalem, Father Raed Abusahlia, told MISNA, the Missionary International Service News Agency, “An immediate ceasefire must be reached to save as many lives as possible and stop any further suffering and destruction.”