Pope condemns killings in Mideast as Gaza protests ease
Guatemala opens Jerusalem embassy, Palestinian envoys recalled from Romania, Hungary, Austria, Czech Republic
Pope Francis on Wednesday condemned the killing of Palestinians near the Gaza-Israel border, saying the deaths would only lead to more violence, and appealed for dialogue to bring justice and peace to the Middle East.
"I express my great pain for the dead and wounded, and I am close in prayer and affection to all those who are suffering," he told tens of thousands of people at his general audience in St. Peter's Square. "I repeat that the use of violence never leads to peace. War begets war and violence begets violence."
Israeli forces killed 60 Palestinians near the Gaza-Israel border on Monday during demonstrations against the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, the most violent day in the Hamas-run enclave since a 2014 war with Israel.
Protests on the Gaza-Israel border have dropped off over the past two days, with Israel on Wednesday pointing to what it said were Egyptian efforts to restore calm.
Last December, when U.S. President Donald Trump announced the decision to move the embassy, Francis called for Jerusalem's "status quo" to be respected, saying new tension in the Middle East would further inflame world conflicts.
Francis, who visited Israel and Palestinian territories in 2014, asked both sides and the international community to redouble efforts "so that dialogue, justice and peace prevail."
Speaking earlier Wednesday in the audience to a group of Polish World War II veterans, he said: "We never learn."
The status of Jerusalem is one of the thorniest obstacles to forging a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, who with broad international backing want East Jerusalem, captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war, as their capital.
Ramadan could limit protests in near term
Israel regards all of the city, including the eastern sector it annexed after the 1967 conflict, as its capital.
The international community generally does not recognize Israeli sovereignty over the entire city and says its final status should be set in peace negotiations.
Palestinians have been demonstrating on the Gaza frontier for the past six weeks, demanding a return to family land or homes lost to Israel when it was founded in the 1948 Middle East war.
Hamas denied that it was under pressure from neighbouring Egypt to scale back the six-week-old demonstrations, and said they would continue, although fewer Palestinians were now gathering in protest tents.
"There is no mediation. The marches will continue until our people achieve their goals," Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum said.
The start on Thursday of the holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims abstain from eating and drinking during daylight hours, could limit the scale of the demonstrations. A statement issued by Palestinian factions including Hamas and Islamic Jihad said the fasting would be taken into account. They said marches would continue through early June.
On the political front, the Palestinian foreign ministry said Wednesday it was recalling for consultations Palestinian ambassadors in Romania, Hungary, Austria and the Czech Republic, citing the participation of those nations in an official celebration of the relocation of the U.S. Embassy.
Netanyahu praises Guatemala
Also on Wednesday, in Jerusalem, Guatemala opened its embassy.
Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attended the embassy's opening on Wednesday in an office complex in west Jerusalem.
"It's not a coincidence that Guatemala is opening its embassy in Jerusalem right among the first. You were always among the first. You were the second country to recognize Israel," Netanyahu said at the ceremony, referring to its founding in 1948.
Guatemala was one of only a few nations that backed Trump's decision in December to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, and became the second country to move its embassy to the holy city.
Paraguay has said it will move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by the end of May.
Prior to 1980, Guatemala and a dozen other countries maintained embassies in Jerusalem. Israel's passage in June 1980 of a law proclaiming Jerusalem its "indivisible and eternal capital" led to a UN Security Council resolution calling on Guatemala and several other countries to move their embassies to Tel Aviv.