VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis underlined his “deep concern” over a flare-up in tensions between Israel and Palestinians, as he led Easter Mass on Sunday.
He said the renewed violence “threatens the desired climate of trust and mutual respect needed to resume dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians.”
Amid already rising tensions, on Wednesday, Israeli police entered the prayer hall of Al-Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third-holiest site, in a pre-dawn operation aimed at dislodging “law-breaking youths and masked agitators” they said had barricaded themselves inside.
The next day, more than 30 rockets were fired from Lebanese soil into Israel, which the Israeli army blamed on Palestinian groups, saying it was most likely Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip. Rockets were also fired from the coastal enclave.
Israel then struck Gaza and southern Lebanon, targeting “terror infrastructures” that it said belonged to Hamas.
On Friday, two separate attacks left an Italian tourist and two British-Israeli sisters dead, and several injured, in Tel Aviv and the West Bank.
On Sunday, rockets were fired from Syria toward Israel, prompting retaliatory artillery strikes.
This week has seen a surge in violence and unrest as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Jewish Passover, and Christian Easter coincide.
The Pontiff was joined at Mass on Easter Sunday by dozens of prelates and tens of thousands of pilgrims and tourists in St. Peter’s Square, where the vast plaza was made bright by spring flowers.
Orange-red tulips, yellow sprays of forsythia and daffodils, and other colorful seasonal blooms were transported in trucks from the Netherlands on Saturday and set up in planters to decorate the Vatican square, which quickly filled up Sunday with Rome residents and Holy Week visitors to the city.
Some 45,000 people had gathered by the start of the mid-morning Mass, according to Vatican security services.
At the beginning of the Easter ceremony inspired by the core Christian belief that Jesus rose from the dead after his crucifixion, Francis sprinkled holy water and sounded somewhat tired as he recited ritual words in Latin.
A canopy on the edge of steps on the square sheltered the pontiff, who was back in the public eye 12 hours after a 2.25-hour long Easter vigil ceremony in St. Peter’s Basilica the night before.
Still recovering from bronchitis, Francis, 86, skipped the traditional Good Friday procession at Rome’s Colosseum due to unseasonably cold nighttime temperatures.
Sunday was breezy, but the temperature quickly rose a day after rain and strong wind gusts lashed Rome.
Francis has generally rebounded following a three-day stay last week at a Rome hospital where he was administered antibiotics intravenously for bronchitis. He was discharged on April 1. Except for forgoing the Colosseum Way of the Cross torch-lit procession, he has stuck to a heavy schedule of Holy Week public appearances.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.