LES COMBES, Italy (AP) -- Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday renewed his appeal for an immediate cease-fire in the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah guerillas in Lebanon and encouraged all sides to start negotiations.
Benedict issued his latest plea as he greeted some 3,000 pilgrims in a meadow near his Alpine vacation retreat on a day that he had dedicated to prayers for peace in the Middle East. He reiterated his recent statements in support of Lebanese sovereignty and of Israel's right to live in peace.
"I renew with vigor my appeal to all sides in the conflict, so that they immediately cease fighting and allow the delivery of humanitarian aid, and so, with the help of the international community, they search for ways to begin negotiations," Benedict said.
"I take the occasion to reaffirm the right of Lebanese to the wholeness and sovereignty of the country, the right of the Israelis to live in peace in their state and the right of the Palestinians to have a free and sovereign country," the pope said.
The pontiff expressed special closeness to the "defenseless civilian populations, unjustly hit in a conflict in which there are only victims."
He said the victims included those in Israel's Galilee region who, he said, are "forced to live in (bomb) shelters," and the "great multitudes of Lebanese, who, yet again, see their country destroyed and who have had to abandon everything and flee elsewhere."
Benedict said he was praying that "the aspirations for peace by overwhelming majority of people can be realized as soon as possible" thanks to actions by their leaders.
He invited others to join him in prayer "so that the beloved peoples of the Middle East are able to abandon the path of armed conflict and construct, with the daringness of dialogue, a just and lasting peace."
The pope also renewed his appeal to humanitarian groups to help.
Benedict is vacationing in the Italian Alps until Friday, when he returns to the Vatican.
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