Pope to meet relatives of Israeli hostages next week

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VATICAN CITY, Nov 17 (Reuters) – Pope Francis will meet next week with relatives of Israeli hostages held by Hamas militants in Gaza, a source said on Friday.

The source spoke to Reuters as the Vatican’s number two, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, said the Holy See believed their release and a ceasefire – which Israel has so far ruled out – were two “fundamental points” to resolve the crisis.

The source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to discuss papal plans, told Reuters 12 relatives would meet the pope early on Wednesday morning before his general audience.

The source said they would be a mix of relatives who met with Italian leaders last month and others who were not among the first group.

Parolin earlier told reporters on the sidelines of a conference in Rome that the Vatican was working on a meeting between the pope and relatives of the hostages but said only that he hoped it could take place “as soon as possible”.

Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State and second only to the pope in the Vatican hierarchy, gave no time frame for the meeting.

About 240 hostages were taken by Hamas gunmen when they stormed into southern Israel on Oct. 7.

Francis has made numerous appeals for their release and for a ceasefire to allow more humanitarian aide to enter Gaza.

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