Appeals for peace as Gaza ignites

 Religious leaders and ordinary citizens are calling for dialogue and peace-building in the Holy Land, as the Israeli military intensifies its actions in Gaza and the humanitarian situation worsens. Rachel Searle, director of the UK-based ecumenical Christian organisation Feed the Minds, has been visiting partners in the Middle East and was in Jerusalem when the Israeli Defence Force invaded Gaza on Wednesday 28 June. Searle spoke with the Rt Rev Riah Abu El-Assal, Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem on the morning of the first attacks. Emphasising that these actions could have terrible consequences for fragile peace negotiations in the Holy Land, the Bishop commented: "Violence breeds violence. Tit for tat will bring us not only greater grief but will bring us nowhere. "It is time for people to sit down and negotiate, rather than to continue to confront each other on the battle ground. "We need to join hands and pave the way for healing and reconciliation," added Bishop Riah. Christian religious leaders, representing 12 different denominations, issued a joint statement in Jerusalem on 8 July, calling on the international community to intervene to resolve the conflict through negotiation. "The Israeli violence and aggression of this present moment is without proportion or justification," they said. "An Israeli soldier was taken prisoner in combat. A Jewish settler was kidnapped and killed. As a response, Israeli forces destroy three bridges and a power station, causing millions of dollars in damage and leaving up to 750,000 people without electricity or water in Gaza." Nearly a hundred people have been killed in Gaza since the attacks began, many of whom are civilians, including women and children. Hundreds more people have been injured and emergency medical services are struggling to cope. Sahaila Tarazi is Director of the Al Ahli Hospital in Gaza, run by the Anglican Diocese of Jerusalem. He told Searle: "It is really critical. We called an emergency situation at the hospital. We have to rearrange everything. We are short of medical supplies so we will have to see what we can do. "People can only get here with great difficulty after the [Israeli Defence Force] destroyed three bridges. They will have to walk. We can only ask God for mercy now." The hospital has no communications lines now, except for cellular phones, and is relying on its emergency generator for power. The fuel needed to run the generator is expensive and in short supply because of the blockade of goods into the territory. Aid agencies report concerns that vaccinations and medicines, which require refrigeration, will expire. Chronically ill patients needing dialysis or treatment for diabetes and heart conditions are being turned away. There is a critical shortage of blood. Although United Nations agencies such as the World Food Programme are now able to bring food, water and fuel supplies into Gaza, there is a desperate shortage of basic goods. The humanitarian impact of the crisis is escalating, with an increase in cases of diarrhoea and malnutrition, particularly among children and the elderly. In spite of the escalating violence and sense of hopelessness, many individuals and faith-based groups are working steadily to break down barriers and build peaceful relations between communities in the Holy Land. "We came here to meet with partners who are working for peace in the Holy Land, commented Searle. "We arrived just as the military actions in Gaza were beginning and we've seen first-hand the fear experienced by citizens as the violence gets worse. "We have also witnessed the amazing commitment towards peace among people of all faiths at a grass roots level. In spite of the actions of governments and armies, ordinary people are working very hard to break down barriers and build solid relations in communities across the Holy Land." For more information see:

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