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Catholic Patriarch of Jerusalem offers himself in exchange for children captured by Hamas

Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa.
Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa. Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa.

A senior Catholic cleric in Jerusalem has expressed "absolute willingness" to offer himself as a hostage to Hamas in exchange for Israeli children who were captured and taken to Gaza.

Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, who is the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem and Pope Francis' representative in the Holy Land, has called upon Hamas to free child hostages taken during their attack on Israel earlier this month.

Israel has said it believes almost 200 hostages were seized by Hamas gunmen during the attacks on October 7, which left around 1,400 people dead.

Both soldiers and civilians were captured and taken to Gaza, including children.

Cardinal Pizzaballa told Italian reporters during a video conference call this week that he would be prepared to offer himself as a hostage if the children taken captive were returned to Israel.

"If I am ready for an exchange? Anything, if this can lead to freedom and bring those children back home, no problem. On my part, absolute willingness," he said.

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"We have offered our readiness at least to try to bring the hostages back, at least some of them. This is being attempted. It is very difficult because, for mediation, you need to have interlocutors."

Cardinal Pizzaballa said that it was currently "not possible to talk to Hamas" given the current situation in Gaza, where Israeli strikes have reportedly killed over 2,000 Palestinians and left more than 9,000 injured.

He told reporters of his fears that a ground invasion of Gaza would lead to a "much more severe humanitarian crisis" where there would "undoubtedly be many victims".

The cardinal said he had concerns the current crisis could spark a "regional conflict, involving not only Gaza or possibly the West Bank but also Lebanon".

"Then the Islamic world could ignite, all the Arab countries," he added.

"I don't know, it's very difficult to predict the developments, but the fear of regional expansion is real, and I'm not the only one saying it."

Cardinal Pizzaballa has called for a day of prayer and fasting on Tuesday in recognition of the conflict. He recently told the Vatican News website he fears the current crisis could lead to "a very long war".

"The international community must start looking again at the Middle East and the Israeli-Palestinian issue with more attention than it has shown so far," he said.

"And it must work hard to calm the situation, to bring the parties to reasonableness through mediations that are not necessarily public, because public ones will never work."