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The Archbishops of Westminster and Canterbury made pleas for peace in the Holy Land, calling for a truce in Gaza and urging Israelis and Palestinians to address the issues underlying this summer's Israeli military offensive in Gaza.
At least 1,370 Palestinians, including hundreds of Hamas militants and more than 200 children, have been killed in the fighting since 8 July when Israel started its offensive against Gaza, to halt rockets fired by Hamas and its allies into Israel. Displaced people in Gaza number more than 130,000. Israel has lost 56 soldiers and three civilians.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols issued a statement on Wednesday in which he warned: "As this conflict shows, violence breeds violence. Along with so many others, I plead for an immediate truce in Gaza that will not only put an end to this latest carnage but that will also address at last the core problems behind this conflict which has so blighted the lives of all the peoples of the Holy Land."
Archbishop Justin Welby said in a lengthy statement on Tuesday: “Only a costly and open-hearted seeking of peace between Israeli and Palestinian can protect innocent people, their children and grand children, from ever worse violence."
“The destructive cycle of violence has caused untold suffering and threatens the security of all,” he added.
“For all sides to persist with their current strategy, be it threatening security by the indiscriminate firing of rockets at civilian areas or aerial bombing which increasingly fails to distinguish between combatants and non-combatants, is self-defeating,” he said.
“The bombing of civilian areas, and their use to shelter rocket launches, are both breaches of age-old customs for the conduct of war.”
He warned that without reconciliation, relations between Israelis and Palestinians would deteriorate further. “The road to reconciliation is hard, but ultimately the only route to security.”
He also condemned the rise in anti-Semitic attacks in Jews in Britain, no matter whether one "disagree[s] with particular policies of the Israeli Government." In Paris, Jewish shops and synagogues have been attacked and across Germany security has been tightened at Jewish schools and meeting places after a synagogue in Wuppertal, near Düsseldorf, was firebombed in the latest in a string of anti-Semitic attacks since the start of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge. An 18-year-old Palestinian youth was arrested.
On Tuesday morning an Israeli bombardment partially destroyed the school linked to the Catholic Holy Family Church, along with the parish priest's office and other church facilities. People living in the Zaitoun neighbourhood of Old Gaza City, where Holy Family is situated, received a warning from Israel on Monday that their densely populated neighbourhood would be bombed. Many fled, but the parish priest, Fr Jorge Hernandez, and three Missionaries of Charity nuns stayed to care for 29 handicapped children and nine elderly women who could not be moved.
On Monday Caritas Internationalis, the Catholic Church’s international aid organisation, launched an emergency appeal to raise money for medical supplies to four hospitals, fuel for generators, and food parcels. Caritas Jerusalem has provided shelter and aid for more than 1,200 civilians in Gaza, many of them Muslims, who have found temporary refuge in the Greek Orthodox church of Saint Porphyrius and Holy Family Church.
Pope Francis made an unscripted and urgent plea for peace during his weekly Vatican address on Sunday, referring particularly to Gaza, Iraq and Ukraine. He broke off from his scripted remarks to appeal to leaders to halt the violence and work for peace. “Please stop! I ask you with all my heart, it’s time to stop!” he pleaded.
The comments came after a humanitarian truce in Gaza broke down, with Israeli bombardments of Gaza and Hamas rocket fire resuming. “I am thinking above all of children, who are deprived of the hope of a worthwhile life, of a future,” said Pope Francis.
Read Archbishop Welby's statement here.
Above: A nun from the Sisters of St Joseph of the Apparition treats Musleh Alrawagh, 20, at the sisters' St Joseph Hospital in Jerusalem. Mr Alrawagh is one of 23 Gazan patients being treated at the hospital. Photo: CNS