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Biden and Pope Francis discuss Israel and Gaza in a call

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© FILE PHOTO: Pope Francis leads the Angelus prayer from his window at the Vatican, October 22, 2023. Vatican Media/­Handout via REUTERS

By Kanishka Singh and Crispian Balmer

WASHINGTON/VATICAN CITY () – U.S. President Joe Biden spoke with Pope Francis on Sunday and discussed the ongoing conflict in the Middle East between Israel and Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, the White House and the Vatican said in separate statements.

They discussed “the need to prevent escalation in the region and to work toward a durable peace in the Middle East,” the White House said.

The Vatican earlier said the call, which lasted about 20 minutes, “focused on conflict situations in the world and the need to identify paths to peace.”

Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing over 1,400 people.

Israel has since retaliated with deadly air strikes on Gaza, a 45 km-long (25-mile) strip of land that is part of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories and home to 2.3 million people.

Gaza has been ruled politically since 2007 by Hamas. Israel’s air strikes have killed over 4,700 people, Palestinian officials say.

In his call with Pope Francis, Biden, who is a Catholic, condemned the attack by Hamas and affirmed the need to protect civilians in Gaza, the White House said.

They also discussed Biden’s recent visit to Israel and efforts for delivery of food, medicine, and other humanitarian assistance in Gaza, according to the White House.

The pope has several times called for the release of hostages taken by Hamas during its Oct. 7 attack. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Sunday that after the release of two U.S. citizens on Friday the United States hoped for more hostages to be freed by Hamas.

Earlier in the day, Francis told crowds in St. Peter’s Square he was deeply saddened by the “grave situation in Gaza,” where an Anglican hospital and a Greek Orthodox church had been bombed.

“Brothers, stop,” Pope Francis said.

The head of the U.N. World Food Program (WFP) has said the humanitarian situation in Gaza is catastrophic.

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