ROME – Pope Francis’s top diplomat has called attack by Hamas militants on Israel “inhuman” and has reaffirmed Israel’s right to self-defense, but has cautioned that the military response must be “proportionate.”

Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, also condemned the taking of hostages and expressed the Holy See’s willingness to help negotiate their release.

On Friday afternoon Rome time, Parolin visited Israel’s embassy to the Holy See to express “his deep sentiments of pain and solidarity on the background of the terrible attack against Israel,” according to a social media post from Israeli Ambassador Raphael Schutz.

Speaking in an Oct. 13 interview with Vatican News, the Vatican’s sate-run media platform, Parolin was asked by editorial director Andrea Tornielli whether the Holy See could potentially have a role in the return of Israeli hostages, given its efforts to secure the return of Ukrainian children deported to Russia amid the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war.

In his response, Parolin said, “The release of Israeli hostages and the protection of innocent lives in Gaza are at the heart of the problem created by Hamas’s attack and the response of the Israeli army. They are at the center of all of our concerns: the Pope and the entire international community.”

“The Holy See is ready for any necessary mediation, as always,” he said, saying they are seeking to engage with institutions “whose channels are already open.”

However, any mediation to end the conflict, Parolin said, “must take into account a series of elements that make the issue very complex and articulated,” including issues related to security, Israeli settlements, and the status of Jerusalem.

“A solution can be found in direct dialogue between Palestinians and Israelis, encouraged and supported by the international community, even though it will be more difficult now,” he said.

Since the conflict began on Saturday, the death toll in Israel has reached 1,300, with more than 3,000 people injured, according to Israeli government figures. In Gaza, retaliatory airstrikes from Israel have killed 1,417 Palestinians and wounded more than 6,250, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry.

At least 150 hostages taken by Hamas militants during the offensive and are now being held at secret locations inside Gaza. With Israel expected to launch a ground offensive, concern is growing as to what fate awaits the hostages, many of whom are women, children and elderlies.

Pope Francis during his Oct. 11 general audience address conveyed his prayers for families of victims of the attack and asked that all hostages be released. He insisted that “it is the right of those who were attacked to defend themselves,” but he voiced concern over “the total siege Palestinians in Gaza face, where many have also been innocent victims.”

He urged restraint, saying, “Terrorism and extremism do not help to reach a solution to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, but fuel hatred, violence, and revenge, causing suffering to both sides.”

In an interview with Crux, Israeli Ambassador to the Holy See Raphael Schutz said the pope’s statement filled “a vacuum I felt needed to be filled,” but insisted that talk of de-escalation is inappropriate at this time and compared Hamas to ISIS, voicing his desire for the Vatican to call them out “by name.”

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In his interview with Vatican News, Parolin made specific mention of Hamas, saying, “The terrorist attack carried out by Hamas and other militias last Saturday against thousands of Israelis who were about to celebrate the day of Simchat Torah, concluding the week of the Sukkot festival, is inhuman.”

He condemned the attack and extended prayers to the families of the victims and the hostages, stressing the need “to regain a sense of reason, abandon the blind logic of hatred, and reject violence as a solution.”

Reiterating “the right of those who are attacked to defend themselves,” Parolin also cautioned that “legitimate defense must respect the parameter of proportionality.”

“I do not know how much room for dialogue there can be between Israel and the Hamas militia, but if there is – and we hope there is – it should be pursued immediately and without delay” in order to avoid further bloodshed, “as is happening in Gaza, where many innocent civilian victims have been caused by the Israeli army’s attacks,” he said.

Parolin insisted on the need for justice for both sides and advocated for a two-state solution to the longstanding Israel-Palestine conflict, saying, “It seems to me that the greatest possible justice in the Holy Land is the two-state solution.”

This, he said, would allow both Palestinians and Israelis “to live side by side in peace and security, meeting the aspirations of the majority.”

Despite broad support within the international community, the two-state solution “has recently seemed to some, on both sides, to be no longer feasible. For others, it never was,” Parolin said, saying the Holy See for its part remains convinced “of the opposite and continues to support it.”

In terms of short-term justice, Parolin said call for all hostages, including those abducted by Hamas during previous conflicts, to be “returned immediately.”

“It is just that in Israel’s legitimate defense, the lives of Palestinian civilians living in Gaza should not be endangered. It is just – indeed, essential – that in this conflict, as in any other, humanitarian law be fully respected,” he said.

Referring to the Christian population of the Holy Land, Parolin said their presence in the region is “essential,” and that “No one can imagine Palestine or Israel without a Christian presence, which has been there from the beginning and will be there forever.”

The small Catholic community in Gaza, composed of around 150 families, “is suffering immensely,” he said, noting that they have gathered in the parish for refuge and the pastor is stuck in Bethlehem and unable to return due to the hostilities.

“Everything is at a standstill, paralyzed, as if gripped by fear and anger,” Parolin said, saying, “Let us pray for the Israelis; let us pray for the Palestinians; let us pray for Christians, Jews, and Muslims: For the peace of Jerusalem pray.”

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