Pope Francis called for peace in the Holy Land and the Middle East on his Easter Sunday speech, just two days after the beginning of the protests in which Israeli security forces have killed at least 18 Gazans.
"We beseech fruits of reconciliation for the Holy Land, also experiencing in these days the wounds of ongoing conflict that do not spare the defenceless, for Yemen and for the entire Middle East, so that dialogue and mutual respect may prevail over division and violence,” said Pope Francis addressing thousands of people at the St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican during his “Urbi et Orbi” message.
Francis also prayed for a resolution on Syria to end the civil war that has killed tens of thousands, for a fruitful dialogue in the Korean peninsula, and for peace in Ukraine, South Sudan, and Venezuela.
“This Easter, may the light of the risen Christ illumine the consciences of all political and military leaders, so that a swift end may be brought to the carnage in course, that humanitarian law may be respected and that provisions be made to facilitate access to the aid so urgently needed by our brothers and sisters, while also ensuring fitting conditions for the return of the displaced.”
Palestinians in Gaza organized a six-week long protest to demand their right to return to the lands from which they were expelled by the occupation forces almost 70 years ago. The protests originated as a grassroots movement but got the support of several political organizations in Palestine.
Activists called for peaceful protests and established “tent cities” near the border with Israel all across the Gaza Strip, but the events soon escalated, and the Israeli occupation forces started shooting live bullets into approaching crowds.
At least 18 Gazans have been killed, and more than a thousand injured just during the first day of protests on Friday. Many have suffered shot wounds and suffocation from tear gas.
Most funeral services of the deceased took place on Saturday, as protests continue in several camps and towns along the border.
Videos on social media show unarmed protesters being shot at by Israeli sniper fire, but the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have put forward a different narrative.
“At least ten known terrorists with track records of terrorist activity were killed whilst carrying out acts of terror during the violent riots along the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip on Friday, March 30, 2018,” wrote the IDF on their Twitter account.
Israeli authorities are blaming Hamas for the mass grassroots protests, called “the Great March of Return,” in an attempt to link the murdered protesters to the Islamic political party and armed organization ruling the Gaza Strip.
Meanwhile, the United States blocked a UN Security Council resolution proposed by Kuwait to investigate the deaths of the Palestinians killed by the IDF, saying that “bad actors” were using “protests as a cover to incite violence” and to “endanger innocent lives.”
Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said that the U.S. veto constituted “a cover for Israel to continue its aggression against the Palestinian people and encourages it to defy UN resolutions aimed at ending its occupation.”
Meanwhile, Israel's minister of defense Avigdor Lieberman rejected calls for an inquiry into the actions of the Israeli army.
"Israeli soldiers did what was necessary. I think all our soldiers deserve a medal," Israeli defense minister Avidgor Lieberman told Army Radio on Sunday.