NICOSIA, Cyprus (Reuters) - Pope Benedict, speaking in the wake of a world outcry over Israel’s blockade of Gaza, on Sunday appealed for “concerted international effort” to ease tensions in the Middle East before more blood is spilled.
His appeal coincided with the release of a Vatican document on the Middle East that decried “disregard for international law,” human rights abuses, and an exodus of Christians fleeing conflict in the region.
“I reiterate my personal appeal for an urgent and concerted international effort to resolve the ongoing tensions in the Middle East, especially before such conflicts lead to greater bloodshed,” he said.
On Saturday, Israel’s navy boarded a ship carrying aid to Gaza without incident, five days after killing nine people on a Turkish aid ship to enforce a blockade that even its closest ally, the United States, has called unsustainable.
The pope wrapped up his three-day trip to this divided island, a political and cultural crossroads between Europe and the Middle East, with a mass for the tiny Catholic community in Cyprus, which is overwhelmingly Orthodox Christian.
At the end of the mass, the pope symbolically delivered a politically-tinged 40-page working paper for a meeting of bishops from the Middle East at the Vatican in October.
“For decades, the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict, disregard for international law, the selfishness of great powers and the lack of respect for human rights have disrupted the stability of the region and subjected entire populations to a level of violence which tempts them to despair,” it said.
The working paper, known in Latin as an “Instrumentum Laboris,” will be the basis for two weeks of discussions among the pope, Vatican officials and all the bishops of the Middle East regarding the future of Christians in the region.
The Vatican backs a Palestinian homeland alongside Israel’s right to exist within internationally recognized borders but its relations with the Jewish state have at times been scratchy and these tensions were evident in several parts of the document.
It said “the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories is creating difficulties in everyday life,” including restrictions on access to holy places.
One of the Vatican’s main concerns about the Middle East has been a continuing exodus of native Christians fleeing the area where their religion was born because of conflicts.
The document said: “Today, emigration is particularly prevalent because of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the resulting instability throughout the region.”
It said the situation for Christians in the Middle East had been exacerbated by the menacing social situation in Iraq “where the war has unleashed evil forces” and political instability in Lebanon.
Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton