BY STAFF REPORTER
POPE BENEDICT XVI has said he hoped a fragile ceasefire in the Gaza Strip with the first step toward serious negotiations for a lasting peace in the Holy Land.
The Pope made the remarks on the day that Hamas said it would stop rocket attacks so that Israel could withdraw its troops from Gaza after a deadly three-week offensive.
The Pope offered prayers for "the hundreds of children, elderly and women, the innocent victims of unheard-of violence, the wounded, those mourning their loved ones and who have lost their possessions".
At least 1,300 Palestinians were killed in the offensive, many of them civilians, according to Palestinian sources. Israel reported the deaths of 13 people, including three civilians.
Thousands of buildings in Gaza were destroyed in the bombardment. The Pope asked leaders on both sides to "help their people rise up from the ruins and from terror and courageously resume the path of dialogue in justice and truth".
The Vatican announced last Saturday that the Pope was sending a cash gift to aid relief efforts carried out by the small Catholic community in Gaza, including Blessed Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity.