VATICAN: Pope Francis leaves the Sistine Chapel after meeting with diplomats accredited to the Holy See at the end of the traditional exchange of the New Year greetings, at the Vatican yesterday. – AFP

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis called for restraint from the United States and Iran yesterday after a military tit-for-tat that he warned could trigger a “vaster conflict” in the Middle East. “Particularly troubling are the signals coming from the entire region following the heightening of tensions between Iran and the United States,” the pope said in his annual speech to Vatican diplomats.

Iran on Wednesday launched 22 ballistic missiles at bases in Iraq hosting American and other foreign troops, in a calibrated response to the killing of a top Iranian general in a US air strike last week. The attacks “risk above all compromising the gradual process of rebuilding in Iraq, as well as setting the groundwork for a vaster conflict that all of us would want to avert,” Francis said. “I therefore renew my appeal that all the interested parties avoid an escalation of the conflict and keep alive the flame of dialogue and self-restraint, in full respect of international law,” he added.

The Argentine also slammed the “general indifference” of the international community towards Yemen, which is suffering “one of the most serious humanitarian crises of recent history”, and warned the conflict in Libya created fertile terrain for human trafficking. He called for “far-sighted solutions” for war-torn Syria and thanked Jordan and Lebanon for taking in refugees.

Francis cautioned however that the burden of taking care of those fleeing for their lives was provoking tensions among the population in Lebanon and other states, “further endangering the fragile stability of the Middle East.” Lebanon, which says it hosts around 1.5 million Syrian refugees, has been rocked by unprecedented anti-government protests since October. – AFP