.- Following the crash of a Malaysian passenger plane in eastern Ukraine yesterday, Pope Francis has offered prayers for the victims, urging all parties involved in the country’s conflict to work for peace.
“The Holy Father Francis has learned with dismay of the tragedy of the Malaysian Airlines aircraft downed in east Ukraine, a region marked by high tensions,” A July 18 statement from the Vatican read.
“He raises prayers for the numerous victims of the incident and for their relatives, and renews his heartfelt appeal to all parties in the conflict to seek peace and solutions through dialogue, in order to avoid further loss of innocent human lives.”
According to CNN, the plane - a Boeing 777 carrying 298 people, all civilians and including many children - was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, and is believed to have been shot down by a surface-to-air-missile.
It crashed Thursday, July 17, between Krasni Luch in the Luhansk region and Shakhtarsk in the neighbouring region of Donetsk, Ukraine. Both sides of the Ukraine conflict have blamed the other side for the incident.
Tensions between Ukraine and Russia have steadily increased since the February protests that led to the resignation of former pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych.
Following Yanukovych’s leave of office, Russia annexed Ukraine's southeastern region of Crimea. A pro-Russian separatist rebellion launched shortly after and has continued to rage in Ukraine's eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk.
Ukrainian military has struggled to calm the separatist unrest, and the government has accused Russia of passing weapons and military equipment, including tanks, across the border illegally, into the hands of pro-Russian separatists.
In wake of the Malaysian plane’s crash, various nations have ordered their airlines to suspend flights over the area.
According to BBC news, the latest numbers released by Malaysia Airlines reveal that the plane was carrying at least 189 Dutchmen, 27 Australians, 44 Malaysians, including 15 crew members, 12 Indonesians and 9 Britons.
Included in the casualties are several passengers who were traveling to participate in Australia’s international AIDS conference, slated to begin June 20, including renown Dutch researcher Joep Lange.
Following immediate investigations into the downing of the plane, BBC reports that the U.N. Security Council has called an emergency meeting on the incident, which will take place Friday in New York.