Pope joins world leaders to appeal for end to violence in Gaza

 As the death toll from Israeli's military offensive in Gaza reached over 100 yesterday, Pope Benedict added his voice to appeals from the UN, EU and the White House calling for an unconditional halt to the violence from both sides. Most of those killed have been Palestinian civilians, including four boys playing soccer and a six-month old baby. But Israel has vowed to press on with the offensive, to curb rocket strikes from Gaza, which killed one Israeli last week. Pope Benedict said yesterday, that showing "absolute respect for human life" was the only solution to a "future of peace and coexistence to both of those peoples who have their roots in the Holy Land." He said: "I renew my pressing appeal to the authorities, both Israeli and Palestinian, to stop this spiral of violence, unilaterally, unconditionally." The government of Mauritania, one of the only Arab League nations to have diplomatic ties with Israel, yesterday called on Israel to stop the "bloodbath" in Gaza, and thousands of protesters took to the streets. The UN Security Council yesterday condemned the escalating violence in the Gaza Strip and southern Israel and urged all parties to respect their obligations under international law. After emergency talks to discuss Saturday's deadly Israeli incursion, Russia's UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, the council chair this month, read out a statement calling "for all parties to immediately cease all acts of violence." The European Union has described the Israeli offensive as "disproportional." In Ramallah, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas suspended peace talks with Israeli response to Israel's attacks. Last night the White House called for an end to the violence in the Gaza Strip and a resumption of Middle East peace talks. Egypt has opened the border with the Gaza Strip so that seriously injured Palestinians can receive medical attention. The Organisation of the Islamic Conference is sending medical supplies. The Hamas government in the Gaza Strip has called on the Fatah government in the West Bank to form a cabinet of national emergency. Source: MEC/VIS

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