Pope Francis met with the families of Israelis being held captive by Hamas in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, part of a humanitarian delegation.
The pontiff met with the families of Lt. Hadar Goldin and Lt. Oron Shaul (he was promoted post-posthumously), whose remains are being held by the terror organization that rules Gaza, and Israeli civilians Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who have been illegally held captive by Hamas in the Strip for several years.
Goldin and Shaul were killed in action during “Operation Protective Edge,” Israel’s war with Hamas in the summer of 2014, and their bodies have been held by Hamas since. The terrorist organization claims they were captured alive.
The pope said, “It is so difficult to comfort a mother’s tears.”
Francis offered prayers for the swift and safe return of the living captives to their families.
The Israeli delegation was accompanied by Ambassador to the Vatican Raphael Schutz and the head of the Diaspora and Religious Affairs section at the Foreign Ministry, Shuli Davidovich.
The delegation held a 45-minute conversation with Francis and asked for his assistance in bringing their family members home.
Last week, the leader of Hamas in Gaza said that the window for Israel to negotiate a prisoner deal was closing, and that without one “another way will be found.”
Yahya Sinwar said during a rally to mark the 35th anniversary of Hamas’s founding that unless an agreement was reached soon, “the case of the four soldiers will be closed,” referring to the two dead soldiers and the two mentally ill civilians.
A masked Hamas man belonging to the Palestinian terrorist group’s “Shadow Unit,” which guards captives and the corpses of enemies killed in action, displayed what was claimed to be Goldin’s rifle during the rally.
Officials in Jerusalem said that the presentation of Goldin’s supposed weapon was psychological warfare designed to pressure Israel’s incoming government. Prisoner exchange talks have hit a roadblock as Israel refuses to release Palestinian terrorists with “blood on their hands,” i.e. who have killed.
The families of Goldin and Shaul have led a campaign to bring their sons’ bodies home. In August, the Goldin family initiated a march to the Gaza border, calling on the Israeli government to secure the release of their sons’ bodies along with Mengistu and al-Sayed.