Vatican Expresses 'Profound Concern' for Gaza Christians

Vatican officials have expressed "profound concern" for the plight of Christians in the Middle East, following the recent conflict in the Gaza Strip between Israel and Hamas.

Cardinal Leonardo Sandri and Archbishop Antonio Maria Veglio have sent a letter to bishops across the world requesting a contribution for the Holy Land, according to a statement on Wednesday.

In the letter, they spoke of how Pope Benedict XVI "constantly comforts Christians, and all the inhabitants of the Holy Land, with special words and gestures, coupled with his desire to make a pilgrimage in the historical footsteps of Jesus," as reported by the Italy-based Adnkronos International.

"The wounds opened by violence make the problem of emigration more acute, inexorably depriving the Christian minority of its best resources for the future," the letter states.

The clergymen also warned that, "The land that was the cradle of Christianity risks ending up without Christians."

During the conflict in Gaza, which broke out last December and spilled into January, over 1,330 Palestinians were killed and 5,400 were injured. The destruction of the conflict has left many people without shelter, food or water, according to aid agencies and the United Nations.

On Thursday, Israeli military disputed Palestinian claims that the majority of the dead were civilians.

Maj. Avital Leibovich, an army spokeswoman, said a total of 1,166 Palestinians were killed in the operation, and 709 were Hamas militants, 295 were civilians, including 89 minors and 49 women. The figures were determined through an investigation that the military had completed.

The figures conflicted with the Palestinian Center for Human Rights' report last week that said 1,417 people were killed, and more than 900 were civilians. Its toll included the names and ages of all of the dead.

Both sides were accused of breaching conventional rules of war during the conflict. Hamas, which is officially recognized as a terrorist organization, was accused of deliberately using Palestinians as human shields in order to increase the civilian body count and thus bring more international condemnation upon Israel.

Israel was accused of using white phosphorous weapons in civilian areas, which is illegal under international law.

The Pope is set to visit Israel and the Palestinian territories on May 8.