Churches redouble efforts and prayers for an end to Middle East hostilities
Christians in Lebanon, Israel and throughout the world are praying and working for an immediate cessation of hostilities that have engulfed the Middle East, writes Martin Revis for Ecumenical News International.
The violence has wreaked havoc in a country that ten days ago was edging back to normality after decades of war.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, said in a recent letter to the heads of churches in Lebanon: "I have been alarmed at the spiral of violence, the vicious circle of attack and retaliation that has developed over the last few days."
At least 245 people were reported killed in Lebanon since the fighting began, news agencies said on 19 July 2006. Hostilities escalated when, on 12 July, Hezbollah fighters hit an Israeli border outpost and kidnapped two soldiers
Israeli bombers hit a Christian suburb on the eastern side of Beirut for the first time news agencies reported on 19 July. The target was said to be a truck carrying a machine used to drill for water that could have been mistaken for a missile launcher.
In Beirut, the general secretary of the Middle East Council of Churches, Guirgis Ibrahim Saleh, called on churches worldwide to intervene with their governments, urging them to exercise pressure for an immediate cease-fire to halt a dangerous escalation of violence.
"The council also urges all regional powers to exercise pressure on all parties to stop escalation and return to dialogue," Saleh said in a statement on 19 July.
In Washington, Lebanon's Maronite Catholic patriarch said he told US Vice President Dick Cheney that Israel has a right to defend itself, but its reaction to Hezbollah actions is not proportionate, the Catholic News Service reported.
"The country is nearly destroyed, the runways, bridges, ports are all destroyed," Cardinal Nasrallah P. Sfeir told CNS after an 18 July meeting with Cheney. The cardinal said "the Lebanese government is so weak, it is not able to oppose [its offenders]. It has no means to."
The moderator of the Church of Scotland, the Rev. Alan McDonald, also wrote to its partner Presbyterian churches in the Middle East. He said he would be contacting British Prime Minister Tony Blair to encourage him to redouble his efforts to "negotiate a cease-fire and implement a serious strategy towards a permanent and peaceful solution" to the Israel and Palestine question.
"The ongoing cycle of violence will simply blight the lives of generations to come," said McDonald. "Meantime, we continue to pray for all whose lives have been destroyed by military action and for you, our fellow Christians in the region, as you minister to your people and witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ."
With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.
Ekklesia adds: The mass rescue of Britons and other internationbal evacuees began yesterday evening. United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan has called for an immediate ceasefire. The Lebanese head of state has denounced the 'devastation' wreaked on his country over the past week.
[Also on Ekklesia: Williams laments Lebanon vicious spiral of violence 20/07/06; Gaza, Israel and Lebanon crises are imperilling Middle East security 19/07/06; Historic Galilee sites hit by rocket attacks 18/07/06; Pope condemns Lebanon raids as G8 converges and Blair blames Iran and Syria 17/07/06; Christians call for end to Lebanon violence as Israel vows revenge 16/07/06; Middle East Christians in anguish over Lebanon violence 14/07/06; Embattled Hezbollah backs Iraq 'doves of peace'; Christian warnings substantiated as Israel targets Hamas; Ex-spy wages peace on terror in the Middle East; UK church and aid agencies concerned over Gaza situation]