Pope prays for peace in "destroyed" Lebanon

 

Pope Benedict led an international day of prayers for peace in the Middle East today and called for an immediate ceasefire and the delivery of humanitarian aid to Lebanon which has been "destroyed" by war.

As violence continued between Israel and Hizbollah, the Pope said the Lebanese had a right to territorial "integrity and sovereignty" and Israelis had the right to live in peace.

I feel particularly close to the defenceless civilian populations, unjustly hit by a conflict of which they are the victims
Pope Benedict

"I feel particularly close to the defenceless civilian populations, unjustly hit by a conflict of which they are the victims," the Pope said in his weekly blessing to a large outdoor crowd at his holiday retreat in the Italian Alps.

The innocent victims, he said were: "both those in Galilee (northern Israel) forced to live in shelters and the huge multitudes of Lebanese who, once again, are seeing their country destroyed and have had to abandon everything to try and flee elsewhere."

The crowd applauded after the Pope listed the rights of the different peoples in the region.

"I take this opportunity to reaffirm the right of the Lebanese to the integrity and sovereignty of their territory, the right of Israelis to live in peace in their state and the right of Palestinians to a free and sovereign land," he said.

Ahead of an emergency meeting of foreign ministers in Rome on Wednesday, the Pontiff called on the international community "to look for ways to start negotiations" between the warring parties.

Israel's 12-day-old onslaught against Hizbollah in Lebanon has claimed 359 lives, mostly civilians, and forced half a million people to flee their homes.

More than 1,000 Hizbollah rockets have killed 17 Israeli civilians, prompting between a third to a half of all residents in northern Israel to escape the bombardment, officials said.

The Pope has already backed the idea of creating aid "corridors" requested by relief agencies to be able to access civilians hit by the war.