| 1 March 2024, Friday |

Pope pledges to release Israeli captives held by Hamas

Pope Francis met in Rome on Wednesday with the families of Israelis being held captive by Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

The meeting was held at the initiative of the Israeli Embassy in Rome.

Pope Francis vowed before the Israeli delegation to work toward bringing home two Israeli civilians and two soldiers.

The meeting lasted 45 minutes and was attended by the Israeli ambassador to the Vatican, Raphael Schutz, the head of the Diaspora and Religious Affairs section at the Foreign Ministry, Shuli Davidovich, and the Israeli ambassador to Rome, Alon Bar.

The relatives asked for the help of the Pope and the Catholic Church to recover the bodies of the two soldiers, Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, and release two Israeli citizens, Avraham Mengistu and Hashem al-Sayid.

The Pope expressed his sympathy for the suffering of mothers and families. He pledged to work with governments and religious leaders to help bring their children back.

Francis offered prayers for the swift and safe return of the living captives to their families.

The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Defense organized the visit to Rome as part of an international campaign to raise global attention to the issue after the families accused the Israeli government and army leadership of “doing nothing to release the children.”

Goldin’s father made harsh accusations, blaming the government for neglecting the fate of their loved ones for eight years. He warned that such behavior would make every mother hesitate to send her son to military service because there are no guarantees that the leadership would protect them.

Israeli sources said the meeting discussed last week’s claims by Hamas leader in Gaza Yehya Sinwar that Israel was thwarting all efforts to reach a prisoner exchange deal.

He warned Tel Aviv had a limited time to complete the deal, or there won’t be any in the future.

The meeting also addressed Palestinian prisoner Nasser Abu Hamid, who died in Israeli prison due to medical negligence. Palestinians warn that dozens of other prisoners in detention could face a similar fate.

  • Asharq Al-Awsat