Washington – U.S. and global Christian leaders are calling on Israel to implement an immediate cease-fire in the Palestinian-controlled Gaza Strip, while U.S. Jewish groups have largely defended Israel’s military campaign.
Gaza officials say nearly 400 Palestinians have been killed, and more than 1,600 injured, in Israel’s five-day air campaign targeted to destroy the military capabilities of Gaza’s ruling Hamas political movement.
Pope Benedict XVI has called for an immediate cease-fire and said violence “must be denounced in all its forms.” The Rev. Samuel Kobia of the Geneva-based World Council of Churches said the mounting deaths “are dreadful and shameful and will achieve nothing but more deaths and suffering.”
In Washington, several groups, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the umbrella group Churches for Middle East Peace, have urged the White House and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to push Israel to immediately halt the attacks. White House Deputy Press Secretary Gordon Johndroe said Wednesday (Dec. 31) that Hamas must first stop firing all rockets in Israel before any cease-fire can be implemented.
“A cease-fire and humanitarian relief are indispensable initial steps on the road to a two-state solution — a secure Israel living in peace with a viable Palestinian state — with justice and peace for both peoples,” Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of Albany, N.Y., wrote to Rice on behalf of the U.S. Catholic bishops.
Church groups on the ground reported a devastating humanitarian crisis as Palestinians grapple with dwindling levels of food and medical supplies. U.S. Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and Anglican Bishop Suheil Dawani said the Anglican-run Al Ahli Hospital in Gaza would remain open.
“Innocent lives are being lost throughout the land we call holy, and as Christians remember the coming of the Prince of Peace, we ache for the absence of peace in the land of his birth,” Jefferts Schori said on Monday.
At the same time, U.S. Jewish groups defended Israel’s response to Hamas rockets that have been repeatedly fired into Israel, especially the border town of Sderot. “We steadfastly urge Israel to continue these operations until Hamas, the terrorist organization, is destroyed,” said Morton A. Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America.
The Rabbinical Council of America, an umbrella group of Orthodox rabbis, said `Israel has every right and obligation to respond as it has, with the force it deems appropriate and necessary to fully eliminate the terrorist threat.”
Richard S. Gordon, president of the American Jewish Congress, blamed Hamas for the death of Palestinians, who he said were placed as “human shields” near civilian locations that were used to hide weapons. “While any civilian casualties are regrettable, the culpability and responsibility for their deaths is attributable to Hamas,” he said.
By Kevin Eckstrom
Religion News Service
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