Pope Francis urges end to 'spiral of violence' in Middle East

Pope Francis holds weekly general audience at the Vatican

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) -Pope Francis urged Iran and Israel on Sunday to avoid steps that could feed "a spiral of violence" that risked plunging the Middle East deeper into conflict.

Speaking to pilgrims in St Peter's Square, Francis said he had been following news of Iran's drone and missile attack on Israel with a sense of concern and pain.

"I make a heartfelt appeal for a halt to any action that could fuel a spiral of violence with the risk of dragging the Middle East into an even greater conflict," he said.

"No one should threaten the existence of others. All nations should stand, instead, for peace, and help Israelis and Palestinians to live in two states, side by side, in safety,"

he added.

The pope called for a ceasefire in Gaza and negotiations to allow humanitarian aid to be provided for its people and to help free Israeli hostages seized by Hamas in its Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

"Enough war, enough attacks, enough violence. Yes to dialogue, yes to peace," he said.

(Writing by Keith Weir; Editing by Alex Richardson)