The Vatican has reiterated its call for the safe return of the hostages taken by the terrorist group Hamas and for a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas in the ongoing war between the two.

Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin insisted on Tuesday that a “cease-fire” is the only way for the hostages to be returned to Israel. 

“Our concern is, first of all, to find a way to have the hostages released and for humanitarian assistance, which continues to be very difficult,” he said on the sidelines of an award ceremony of the Centesimus Annus Pro Pontifice Foundation on Tuesday. “So the only path is that of a cease-fire.”

Parolin confirmed that there have been “no developments” in diplomatic contacts with Israel. Earlier this month, the Israeli embassy denounced Parolin for calling Israel’s conduct in the war not “proportionate.”

A Palestinian ambassador to the Holy See, Issa Kassissieh, meanwhile, met with a top Vatican official on Monday. Kassissieh urged for a cease-fire ahead of the upcoming religious holidays of Ramadan and Easter, as reported by Crux

Kassissieh ​​met with Vatican’s secretary for Relations with States, British Archbishop Paul Gallagher, and emphasized the need for humanitarian aid in Gaza and to preserve access to holy sites in Jerusalem.

Kassissieh reportedly urged Israel to remember “they’re living in the Middle East, among Arab and Muslim worlds, so extremism won’t get any results for anyone.” He also thanked the Vatican for its recent statements on the Israel-Hamas conflict and for the Holy See’s “relentless” efforts for peace. 

“We have taken note of what the ambassador has told us,” Parolin told reporters at the Tuesday event. 

“But even there, what we would like is that a dialogue could be initiated beyond the polemics that perhaps are also in a certain sense justified by the passion to which this war has given rise on both sides,” he said. “Obviously on these things we need to reason a little more calmly.”

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President Joe Biden said earlier this week that he was hoping for a short-term cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. Israel said it would agree to it if Hamas released the hostages, but multiple Hamas officials have since rejected the cease-fire proposal.

Earlier this month, Parolin said the Israeli response to the Oct. 7, 2023, attacks, when Hamas brutally killed 1,200 Israeli civilians and took more than 200 hostages, was not “proportionate.” 

The Israeli embassy issued a sharp rebuke in which the embassy called the cardinal’s comment a “deplorable statement.”  

The cardinal reiterated that the Vatican had condemned “what happened on Oct. 7” as well as condemning “every type of antisemitism.” 

Parolin went on to say that “at the same time” the Holy See has requested “that Israel’s right to defense that was invoked to justify this operation be proportionate … and certainly with 30,000 deaths it is not.” 

“I believe we are all outraged by what is happening, by this carnage, but we must have the courage to move forward and not lose hope,” Parolin said, adding that “we must find other ways to solve the problem of Gaza, the problem of Palestine.”

“It is a deplorable statement,” the Israeli embassy responded in a Feb. 14 statement. “Judging the legitimacy of a war without taking into account all relevant circumstances and data inevitably leads to erroneous conclusions.”

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“Gaza has been transformed by Hamas into the largest terrorist base ever seen,” the embassy argued. “There is almost no civilian infrastructure that has not been used by Hamas for its criminal plans, including hospitals, schools, places of worship, and many others.”

“Gaza civilians also actively participated in the Oct. 7 unprovoked invasion of Israeli territory, killing, raping, and taking civilians hostage,” the statement continued. “All these acts are defined as war crimes.” 

The embassy argued that “in stark contrast” to the Hamas assault, “IDF operations are conducted in full compliance with international law.”

The embassy’s press release also addressed the issue of civilian deaths, indicating that in the case of the IDF, “for every Hamas militant killed, three civilians lost their lives,” which contrasts favorably with “past wars and operations of NATO forces or Western forces in Syria, Iraq, or Afghanistan … the proportion was nine or 10 civilians for every terrorist.” 

“Any objective observer,” the embassy said, “cannot help but come to the conclusion that the responsibility for the death and destruction in Gaza lies with Hamas and Hamas alone.”