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Pope issues Easter Sunday call for immediate ceasefire in Gaza


Pope Francis issued an urgent appeal for an immediate ceasefire in the Gaza Strip and for an exchange of prisoners in the war in Ukraine during his traditional Easter Sunday address.

“I appeal once again that access to humanitarian aid be ensured to Gaza, and call once more for the prompt release of the hostages seized on 7 October last and for an immediate ceasefire in the Strip,” the pope said.

Turning to the war in Ukraine, he called for respect for the principles of international law and expressed the hope for a general exchange of all prisoners between Russia and Ukraine.

In a general call for world peace, Francis mentioned conflicts along the Israel-Lebanon border, between Armenia and Azerbaijan and noted continuing fighting in many parts of Africa.

Earlier, he celebrated Easter Sunday Mass on St Peter’s Square in Rome on Sunday morning amid strict security provided by the Italian authorities.

While Francis was present, a high-ranking cleric led the service on behalf of the 87-year-old pope, who is in ailing health.

A congregation of some 30,000 were present in mild spring temperatures of around 20 degrees but with a brisk wind. The square was decorated as always with flowers and plants, many from the Netherlands.

There were cheers as Francis was driven past the crowd in the popemobile after the mass, with many calling out: “Viva il Papa!” (Long live the pope).

The Vatican’s Easter festivities have been overshadowed by concerns about the pontiff, who has been in poor health for months.

Strict security was in force as always, but increased this year following the recent terrorist attack on a concert hall near Moscow for which an Afghanistan-based Islamist terrorist group, Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP), has claimed responsibility.

Long queues formed at the entrances to the square as Italian police conducted checks.

The Mass and traditional “Urbi et Orbi” blessing – Latin for to the city and the world – is the highlight of the Easter holidays and the most important festival in the Christian calendar.

On Easter Sunday, Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ and thus the victory of life over death.

Pope Francis pictured during the Holy Mass on Easter Sunday at the St. Peter's Square. Domenico Cippitelli/LPS via ZUMA Press Wire/dpa

Pope Francis pictured during the Holy Mass on Easter Sunday at the St. Peter’s Square. Domenico Cippitelli/LPS via ZUMA Press Wire/dpa

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