‘Indiscriminately striking’ civilians is war crime, pope says in major speech

VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis, tackling conflicts in the Middle East and Ukraine in his yearly address to diplomats, said on Jan 8 that “indiscriminately striking” civilians is a war crime because it violates international humanitarian law.

Pope Francis, 87, made his comments in a 45-minute address to Vatican-accredited envoys that is sometimes called his “state of the world” speech.

Expressing concern that the war between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas in the Gaza Strip could spread in the wider Middle East, he called for a “ceasefire on every front, including Lebanon”.

He condemned Hamas’ Oct 7 cross-border attack from Gaza into southern Israel as an “atrocious” act of “terrorism and extremism”, and renewed a call for the immediate liberation of those still being held by militants in Gaza.

In remarks linking the two main conflicts in the world today, the Pope said modern warfare often does not distinguish between military and civilian objectives.

There is no conflict that does not end up in some way “indiscriminately striking” the civilian population, he said.

“The events in Ukraine and Gaza are clear proof of this. We must not forget that grave violations of international humanitarian law are war crimes, and that it is not sufficient to point them out, but also necessary to prevent them.

“There is a need for greater effort on the part of the international community to defend and implement humanitarian law, which seems to be the only way to ensure the defence of human dignity in situations of warfare,” he said.

Israel’s military campaign in densely populated Gaza has so far killed 22,835 Palestinians, according to Palestinian health officials. Israel says 1,200 people were killed in Hamas’ Oct 7 rampage and around 240 were taken hostage.

The Pope also said the recent resurgence of anti-Semitism since the start of the Gaza war was a “scourge” that must be eliminated from society. REUTERS

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