Pope urges talks in Lebanon conflict


Pope Benedict XVI has expressed grave concern over the escalation of fighting in Lebanon and denounced terrorism and retaliation in the Holy Land.

Speaking at his mountain retreat during a holiday in the Italian Alps, Pope Benedict also expressed sorrow over civilian deaths and appealed to leaders to "return to the path of reason" and work for dialogue.

Violence has intensified in the Middle East after Hezbollah guerrillas based in southern Lebanon pounded the Israeli city of Haifa with rockets and missiles, and Israel warned residents in southern Lebanon to flee before an imminent Israeli attack.

The Pope prayed that God grant "the fundamental gift of harmony, bringing political leaders back on the path of reason and opening new possibilities for dialogue and understanding."

"In these days, the news from the Holy Land are all cause for new, grave worry, in particular, the widening of belligerent actions even in Lebanon, and for the numerous victims among the civilian population," Benedict told a gathering of pilgrims.

"At the origin of these merciless conflicts are, unfortunately, objective situations of violation of rights and of justice," the pontiff said. "But neither terrorist acts nor retaliation , above all when there are tragic consequences for the civilian population, can be justified," Benedict said.

"Going down such roads — bitter experience has shown — does not bring positive results." He noted that that today was the feast day of the Madonna of Carmel, a mountain in the Holy Land, which dominates Haifa, "which has also been hit," and is a few miles from Lebanon.

On Friday, the Vatican condemned Israel's attack on Lebanon as it expressed concern that the conflict in the Middle East might widen. It said that the right to defend one's country does not exempt it from respecting international law, especially that regarding safety of civilians.