Catholic Relief Services calls for ‘immediate humanitarian access’ to Gaza Strip — By: Catholic News Agency

CNA Staff, Oct 16, 2023 / 14:45 pm (CNA).

Catholic Relief Services on Saturday called for “immediate humanitarian access” in the Gaza Strip as the war between Israel and the terrorist group Hamas continues to unfold after Hamas’ surprise attack on Israel earlier this month.

The Baltimore-based aid group said in its Oct. 14 statement that it is “alarmed at the humanitarian crisis that is unfolding in Gaza” and asked for aid access “before a dire humanitarian situation becomes a catastrophe.” 

“Civilians in Gaza are entitled to safety and protection, whether in the north or south,” the group said. “We also urge international stakeholders to work towards a cease-fire and an end to the violence that has killed more than 3,000 people.”

“We join Pope Francis’ call for people worldwide ‘to pray that there be peace in Israel and Palestine,’” CRS said. 

CRS in its statement noted that nearly 1 million people, “almost half the population,” are “at risk of displacement” following Israel’s directive for people to evacuate the northern part of Gaza. 

“Prior to the order, over 400,000 Palestinians were already displaced,” the group said. “Many who are sick, disabled, injured, or otherwise vulnerable are unable to comply with this order.”

“Electricity has been cut off, and critical supplies such as food, fuel, and water are running dangerously low, and in some areas have run out completely.”

Hamas’ surprise attack against Israel on Oct. 7 resulted in the deaths of 1,300 Israelis and international civilians. Israel subsequently declared war and vowed a siege of the Gaza Strip. The death toll in Gaza stood at approximately 2,700 people as of Monday, according to the BBC. 

Of growing international concern has been the ongoing hostage crisis in the conflict. The Israel Defense Forces said on Monday that at least 199 Israelis had been abducted by Hamas since the start of the war. Hamas threatened last week to kill one hostage every time Israel’s military bombs civilian targets in Gaza “without warning.”

The hostage crisis has drawn international backlash, including from Pope Francis, who last Wednesday appealed for the immediate release of the hostages. 

Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin Catholic patriarch of Jerusalem, even went so far this week as to offer to be exchanged for the children being held hostage in the Gaza Strip by Hamas. 

CRS says it and its partners are monitoring the situation and remain “ready to respond according to needs as they present.” The group has said in the past that it aims to help promote a “just, secure, and stable two-state solution for both Israelis and Palestinians.”

Pope Francis first addressed the war in Israel and Palestine on Oct. 8, declaring that “terrorism and war do not bring any solution but only death and suffering for many innocent people.” 

“War is a failure. Every war is a failure,” the Holy Father said.

On Oct. 13, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state, condemned Hamas’ attacks as “inhuman” and said the Holy See expressed “complete and firm condemnation” of the strikes. He also said the Holy See stands ready to help mediate a peace agreement. 

The Vatican’s diplomatic response to Hamas’ attacks was nevertheless recently criticized by Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, who suggested that the Holy See had not issued an “unequivocal and clear” condemnation of the “murderous terrorist actions” of Hamas terrorists. 

Pizzaballa, meanwhile, last week urged the faithful to commit to “a day of abstinence and fasting and prayer for peace and reconciliation” on Tuesday, Oct. 17.

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