Israel spurns 48 hour humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza

By staff writers
December 31, 2008

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has pushed aside global calls for a 48-hour truce in the Gaza Strip to allow humanitarian aid in and give diplomacy a chance to take over from bloodshed and killing as a way forward.

Mr Olmert claimed conditions were "not right" for a ceasefire, but did not rule one out if Hmas rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza were halted.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who has condemned the Hamas rockets, but pointed out that the overwhelming military force being used is Israel's, has said that peace talks with the Israelis are being imperilled while the strikes against Gaza continue.

Israeli air strikes on Gaza have continued for a fifth day, while more Hamas rockets have landed in Israel. Nearly 400 Palestinians and 4 Israelis have been killed.

A humanitarian worker in the region told Ekklesia: "Hardliners on both sides have little interest in ratcheting down the violence, but as the main power Israel holds most responsibility. The Hamas rocket attacks are futile, vindictive and wrong. But wreaking massive revenge on a civilian population and behaving as if one Israeli life demanded dozens or hundreds of Gazan deaths is unacceptable."

Pope Benedict XVI and the general secretary of the World Council of Churches, the Rev Dr Samuel Kobia, are among many church and faith leaders condemning the violence in Gaza and calling for its immediate cessation.

Speaking during his weekly Angelus prayer at the Vatican on 28 December 2008, the Pope said, "I implore an end to the violence which must be denounced in all its forms and a restoration of the truce on the Gaza Strip."

The pontiff continued: "I call on the international community to do all it can to help the Israelis and Palestinians on this dead-end road ... and not to give in to the perverse logic of confrontation and violence but to favour the path of dialogue and negotiations."

Earlier, in their yearly Christmas message the heads of churches in Jerusalem had said "We need the light of Christ to shine on this Land to enable us to work more realistically for a two-State solution which would end the burden of restrictions arising out of occupation." They said in their message, "We need also to see the situation in which many are suffering in Gaza in the light of Christ and make a determined effort to bring them urgent relief."

The church leaders said they prayed that US President-elect Barack Obama and other world leaders would see the urgent need for peace in the Middle East and the Holy Land.

In Geneva, ACT International, the global humanitarian alliance of churches and related agencies, warned of a dramatic escalation of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, if Israel, Hamas and other militant groups do not cease the current hostilities and avert a new military conflict.

"The humanitarian consequences for innocent civilians will be even more grave than they already are if all parties do not immediately end all attacks and begin a new ceasefire," said John Nduna, director of ACT International.

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