Pope makes appeal for battle-stricken Mosul24 October 2016 | by Christopher Lamb
There have been reports of Islamic State using civilians as human shields against attacks from Iraqi-led forces
The Pope has called for an end to bloodshed in Mosul as violence escalated in fierce fighting for control over the Iraqi city.
During his Angelus prayer on Sunday Francis said he was shocked by the “heinous acts” perpetrated against innocent citizens. Since the offensive began there have been reports that Islamic State (IS) used civilians as human shields against attacks from Iraqi-led forces trying to reclaim Mosul, which fell under IS control in 2014.
“In these dramatic hours, I am close to the entire population of Iraq, especially that of the city of Mosul,” the Pope told the crowd of 50,000 in St Peter’s Square today. “I was saddened to hear news of the killing – in cold blood – of many sons and daughters of that beloved land, including many children: this cruelty makes us weep, leaving us without words.”
In unscripted remarks, Francis explained: “Our hearts are shocked by the heinous acts of violence that for too long have been perpetrated against innocent citizens: whether they be Muslims, whether they be Christians, or people belonging to other ethnic groups and religions.”
The suffering of those in the region was exacerbated after IS bombed a sulphur plant south of Mosul sending plumes of toxic smoke into the air while continuing with a spate of executions and suicide bombs.
Aid agencies and the United Nations have raised concerns for the safety of the 1.5 million inhabitants living in the country's second largest city. They fear they could be caught in the crossfire when the battle reaches the city proper. 30,000 United States-backed troops including Kurds, Shiite militias, Sunni tribal fighters and the Iraqi army have edged their way closer to Mosul with military commanders saying they are just eight kilometres away.
In the case of IS, the Pope has said military intervention to stop an “unjust aggressor” can be justified, and last year the Holy See’s representation in Geneva called for coordinated international force to stop the extremist violence.
Francis has also, however, called for dialogue and mediation in conflict-stricken areas: today he urged Iraq to be “strong and firm in the hope of moving toward a future of security, reconciliation and peace".
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