Pope Francis, in his traditional Easter message, has lamented the killing of “defenseless” protesters in the occupied Palestinian territories, pleading for peace in the Holy Land.

The Pontiff, 81, on Sunday made the comments and appeal in his “Urbi et Orbi” (to the City and the World) message from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome to tens of thousands of people in the flower-bedecked square below where he earlier celebrated a Mass.

In an apparent reference to the recent killing of Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip on Friday, when Israeli soldiers and snipers shot dead 17 Palestinian demonstrators, the head of the world's 1.2-billion Catholics also called for “a reconciliation for the Holy Land,” which is “also experiencing in these days the wounds of ongoing conflict that do not spare the defenseless.”

During Friday’s bloody protest, around 30,000 Gazans marched on the fence with the occupied territories at the start of a six-week peaceful protest, dubbed “The Great March of Return,” demanding the right to return to their homeland.

While the Muslim nations were outraged by the carnage, the deadliest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since the 2014 Gaza War, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Israeli soldiers in his official Twitter account late on Saturday for their actions which he claimed were aimed at guarding Israel.

On Friday, the UN Security Council held an emergency meeting over the situation in Gaza, but the US blocked a draft statement which urged restraint and called for an “independent and transparent investigation” into last Friday's deadly carnage.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres also called for “an independent and transparent investigation” into the incident.