Easter: Pope Francis calls for ceasefire in Gaza and Ukraine

Pope Francis has used his traditional Easter message to call for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip and for the return of Israeli hostages held by Hamas.

The 87-year-old pontiff led Easter Mass at the Vatican in front of thousands, despite concerns over his health.

Referring to conflicts around the world, the Pope pleaded not to “yield to the logic of weapons and rearming”.

“Peace is never made with arms, but with outstretched hands and open hearts,” he said.

Tens of thousands of worshippers gathered in St Peter’s Square to hear the Pope.

As fresh truce negotiations between Israel and Hamas were due to begin, Pope Francis said: “I appeal once again that access to humanitarian aid be ensured to Gaza, and call once more for the prompt release of the hostages seized on 7 October and for an immediate ceasefire in the Strip.

Referring to the impact of the war on civilians, beginning with children, he said: “How much suffering we see in their eyes! With those eyes, they ask us: Why? Why all this death? Why all this destruction? War is always an absurdity and a defeat.”

Pope Francis also warned countries against re-arming themselves and spoke about the ongoing conflict in Ukraine just over two years since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of its neighbour.

“In calling for respect for the principles of international law, I express my hope for a general exchange of all prisoners between Russia and Ukraine,” the Pope said.

The war in Gaza began after Hamas’s unprecedented attack in southern Israel during which about 1,200 people were killed and some 253 taken hostage.

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Israel launched a retaliatory operation, saying it was aimed at destroying Hamas. Since then, 32,782 Palestinians have been killed and 75,298 injured, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

Easter Sunday marks a major part of the Catholic calendar and is followed by 1.3 billion people around the globe.

On Sunday, Pope Francis was helped into a wheelchair as he greeted cardinals celebrating Easter Mass.

He then travelled around St Peter’s Square in the popemobile waving to large crowds.

Two days ago, Pope Francis presided over the Good Friday service in Saint Peter’s Basilica – but he skipped the traditional Way of the Cross ceremony and procession at Rome’s Colosseum to protect his health, the Vatican said.

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