Holy Land: ceasefire in Gaza - churches hold worldwide action for peace

 A six-month cease-fire, announced on Tuesday by Egyptian mediators and Hamas, was confirmed yesterday by Tel-Aviv. According to Israeli spokesperson Mark Regev, the cease-fire will be enforced today at 6am, local time. "Should Israeli military actions and Palestinian rocket launches towards southern Israel cease, Tel Aviv will start withdrawing some of its restrictive measures against Gaza from next week," Regev said. Hamas has ruled Gaza since last June but is considered a terroristic organization by Israel. In the past year, Tel Aviv's sanctions on Gaza have caused severe shortages of fuel, electricity, food and medicines, in what has been described by Caritas and other aid organisations as "collective punishment" against Palestinian civilians. Meanwhile - there were peace vigils, seminars, concerts and festivals in more than 40 countries around the world earlier this month, as part of 'International Church Action for Peace in Palestine and Israel' convened by the World Council of Churches. Many used a special prayer for the week from church leaders and a common message saying: "It's time for Palestinians and Israelis to share a just peace". "Knowing that churches all over the world are supporting a just peace means a lot for Palestinians, Christian and Muslim, in this 60th anniversary year," said Nora Carmi in Jerusalem, one of the week's planners and a staff member at Sabeel, a church-related organization. People as far afield as Jamaica and Vanuatu and as near as Lebanon and Israel emailed prayers and wishes to Bethlehem to be shared in local schools and churches. Some of the messages were read in Manger Square on June 8, where locals and internationals with torches and drums formed a "living clock" to commemorate six decades of living as refugees and 41 years under occupation. Volunteers from the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel took part there, in a blog on-line and in events in various countries. At a Canberra press conference, a statement signed by 57 leaders of churches and specialized ministries called on the Australian government to give a much higher priority to working for peace in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. A Member of Parliament then put the church recommendations on record. At parliament in Edinburgh, 70 politicians and religious leaders addressed the international silence over the blockade of Gaza and the international complicity in not implementing United Nations resolutions on the conflict. The head of the Scottish Episcopal Church urged people in Scotland who are "free to denounce injustice" to support Palestinians and Israelis who persist in working for peace with justice. North American and European leaders of Pax Christi International held a peace vigil in Antwerp, Belgium. World Vision International sent the Jerusalem prayer to 30,000 staff members worldwide. In the Philippines participants found ways to connect local struggles with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and every member church of the National Council of Churches received the action week message and prayer. In Sri Lanka, the Church of Ceylon's reconciliation office took on the task of educating parishes about Israel and Palestine. National church organizations in the US held an ecumenical service in New York City using the Jerusalem prayer and an accompanying liturgy. In Australia a broad spectrum of church leaders came together to address national public opinion makers on the Israel-Palestine conflict and launch a parish awareness kit. In Scotland a cross-party group in Parliament met with Christian, Jewish and Muslim representatives. In Budapest, Hungary's second largest church sent letters about peace for Israelis and Palestinians to the national and foreign governments. In Norway the foreign minister and a Palestinian bishop addressed a multi-religious peace service. Source: MISNA/WCC

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