Pope meets relatives of Israeli soldiers seized by Hezbollah

Relatives seeking information on two Israeli soldiers who were seized by Hezbollah militants in northern Israel at the start of last year's Lebanon war met Wednesday with Pope Benedict XVI.

Benedict listened to the appeal by relatives of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, who are making a two-day visit to Italy and the Vatican as part of a campaign to enlist foreign help to obtain information on the soldiers and secure their release, said Oded Ben-Hur, Israel's ambassador to the Holy See.

Hezbollah has not released any details on the condition of the soldiers or provided any sign they are still alive since they seized the pair in the July 12 cross-border raid that sparked the conflict.

The group of relatives, including Regev's brother and Goldwassers' parents and wife, spoke briefly with Benedict during his weekly public audience and gave him a booklet with paintings from the Bible and photos of the captive soldiers, Ben-Hur said.

"You could see he was very touched," Ben-Hur said.

The relatives were also scheduled to meet with top Italian officials later Wednesday, including Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema.

Meanwhile, Benedict also condemned Tuesday's bombings on commuter buses in Lebanon that killed three people.

In a telegram to Lebanese Cardinal Nasrallah Pierre Sfeir, the pope said he was "deeply pained by the serious attack" and was praying for the victims and their families, reports AP.

He also urged "the Lebanese people and its leaders to unanimously reject violence" and work for "national unity and common good."

The explosions on a busy mountain highway in a Christian area northeast of Beirut stoked fears of turmoil a day before pro-government supporters marked the anniversary of the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

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