Pope Francis lamented war in the land of the birth of Jesus on Sunday, where Christmas Eve brought only fresh bloodshed and an intensification of fighting across the length of the Gaza Strip.
Hours before midnight tolled for Christmas in the Holy Land, Palestinian health officials reported at least 70 dead in an Israeli airstrike on central Gaza. The Israeli military spokesperson’s office said it was looking into the report.
Israel reported the highest two-day death toll for its troops in more than a month.
The head of the Islamic Jihad militant group joined talks in Cairo, one small sign at least that diplomacy remained alive.
But in Bethlehem, the Israeli-occupied Palestinian West Bank city where Jesus Christ is believed to have been born in a stable 2,000 years ago, clergy cancelled traditional celebrations for the first time in memory.
“Tonight, our hearts are in Bethlehem, where the Prince of Peace is once more rejected by the futile logic of war, by the clash of arms that even today prevents him from finding room in the world,” Pope Francis said, presiding at Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
Palestinian Christians earlier held a Christmas vigil in Bethlehem with candle-lit hymns and prayers for peace in Gaza instead of the usual celebrations.
There was no large tree, the usual centrepiece of Bethlehem’s Christmas celebrations. Nativity figurines in churches were placed amid rubble and barbed wire in solidarity with the people of Gaza. [Continue reading…]