ZENIT News Agency, The World Seen from Rome  

Pontiff Calls for Halt to Violence in Holy Land
Troubled by Situation in Gaza Strip

VATICAN CITY, NOV. 5, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI appealed to Israeli and Palestinian leaders, and to the international community as a whole, to put an end to the bloodshed in the Holy Land.

After praying the midday Angelus with several thousand people gathered today in St. Peter's Square, the Pope said that he follows "with profound concern the news on the serious deterioration of the situation in the Gaza Strip."

He also expressed his "closeness to the civilian populations suffering the consequences of the violence."

The three Palestinian militias that are holding Israeli soldier Guilad Shalit threatened to kill him if Israel does not halt immediately its military offensive in the northern Gaza Strip.

News agencies report that at least 48 Palestinians have died since Nov. 1, in this new Israeli military operation in Gaza. The operation seeks to reduce the offensive capacity of the militias that fire rockets into Israeli territory.

Benedict XVI invited believers worldwide to join him in prayer "so that Almighty and Merciful God will illuminate the Israeli and Palestinian authorities."

The Pope's prayer for divine illumination is also for "those nations that have a particular responsibility in the region, so that they will commit themselves to halt the bloodshed, to multiply initiatives of humanitarian help, and favor the immediate resumption of a direct, serious and concrete negotiation."