Development agencies petition Tony Blair for an immediate ceasefire
A new petition already signed by nearly 35,000 people which asks British Prime Minister Tony Blair to call for an immediate ceasefire in the Middle East was handed in to Downing Street yesterday.
The petition was backed by 16 leading UK development agencies ñ secular, Christian and Muslim. Supporters of the churchesí aid and advocacy organisation Christian Aid have gathered 4,000 of the signatures so far.
Thousands of people signed up in just four days after advertisements were placed in three national newspapers. The response reflects public unease about the UKís failure to call for an immediate ceasefire.
ìThe case for an immediate ceasefire is overwhelming. The British Government should, in unequivocal terms, demand an immediate ceasefire and pressurize the Bush administration to do likewise,î said Martin Bell OBE, who handed in the petition to Downing Street
Mr Bell, a former TV newsreader and ex-independent MP added: ìThese tens of thousands of signatures gathered in just a few days show how strongly the public feel; the government would do well to heed them.î
Civilians are bearing the brunt of the latest crisis in the Middle East. More than 550 Lebanese, 18 Israelis and 120 Palestinians civilians have died since the current violence began. Hundreds of thousands more have lost their homes and had their livelihoods destroyed.
ìChristian Aid is extremely concerned about the deepening humanitarian crisis in the Middle East and the lack of compelling arguments for why the government will not call for an immediate ceasefire. This would save lives and create the space for negotiations that can address the root causes of this conflict,î said Janet Symes, Christian Aidís Middle East regional manager.
According to development and relief agencies working in the area there are currently no security guarantees and aid convoys are being bombed.
ìDespite all the finely crafted promises for pauses and humanitarian corridors, most aid still cannot get through to those children and families most in need. Innocent children are being killed daily in a war they had no part or place in,î said Amelia Bookstein from Save the Children.
ìNegotiation and politics can only progress once the guns have gone silent. Until then, anger and resentment can only build, pushing a lasting peace further from reach,î added Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari, Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain.
The full list of organizations backing the petition is: BASIC, CAFOD, CARE International UK, Christian Aid, Education Action International, International Rescue Committee, Islamic Relief Worldwide, Medact, Muslim Council of Britain, Oxfam, Save the Children, Tearfund, UNISON, War on Want, Welfare Association, and World Vision UK.
A national demonstration against Israelís aggression in Lebanon and Gaza is being co-oordinated in central London on Saturday 5 August 2006 by the Stop the War Coalition.
A wide range of people are likely to take part in the protest, but critics (including peace campaigners) say that the group is wrong not to call on Hezbollah to stop targeting Israeli civilians with its rocket attacks and to condemn all indiscriminate violence.
Meanwhile the UK development agencies say they still need help to put pressure on Prime Minister Tony Blair to call for an immediate ceasefire, and they are encouraging people to go on adding their names to the petition.