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Pope calls for end to hostage crisis in Holy Land

Written by: Staff

VATICAN CITY, June 29 (Reuters) Pope Benedict called today for an end to the hostage crisis in the Holy Land, saying Palestinian militants should free a kidnapped Israeli soldier and both sides should resume dialogue.

The Pontiff said he was ''apprehensively following'' the latest developments, as Israel arrested members of the Hamas-led Palestinian cabinet and prepared to step up its Gaza military offensive.

''I pray that every person kidnapped be quickly returned to their loved ones,'' the Pope told a crowd gathered at St. Peter's Square, in a reference to the 19-year-old Israeli tank gunner who was kidnapped in a cross-border raid on Sunday.

''I call on Israeli and Palestinian leaders so that, with the generous contribution of the international community, they responsibly seek the negotiated settlement of the conflict which alone can assure the peace sought by their people.'' REUTERS CH RK1732

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