VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis on Sunday called for peace in the Holy Land two days after 15 Palestinians were killed at the Gaza border with Israel, saying the conflict there “does not spare the defenseless.”
He also appealed in his Easter message for an end to the “carnage” in Syria, calling for humanitarian aid to be allowed to enter, Reuters reported.
Speaking from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica to tens of thousands of people Francis referred directly to the Gaza violence on Friday, adding to the international anger over Israel’s use of force.
He called for “reconciliation for the Holy Land, also experiencing in these days the wounds of ongoing conflict that do not spare the defenseless.”
Israel’s defence minister has rejected calls for an inquiry into the killings by the military during a Palestinian demonstration at the Gaza-Israel border. More than 700 people were also injured.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Federica Mogherini, the EU’s foreign policy chief, and other leaders have called for an independent investigation into the bloodshed.
Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said troops acted appropriately and fired only at Palestinian protesters who posed a threat, AP reported.
“They did what had to be done,” Lieberman told Israeli Army Radio. “I think that all of our troops deserve a commendation, and there won’t be any inquiry.”
Friday’s marches were part of a six-week-long protest campaign against a stifling decade-old blockade of the territory.
In Friday’s confrontations, large crowds gathered near the fence, with smaller groups of protesters rushing forward, throwing stones and burning tires.
Israeli troops responded with live fire and rubber-coated steel pellets, while drones dropped tear gas from above. Protests have continued since Friday but at a far smaller scale. On Sunday, one person was seriously wounded by gunfire, Palestinian medical officials said.