Christian church leaders in Jerusalem have vowed to keep places of worship in Gaza open despite pressure from the Israeli military to evacuate.
In a statement issued with the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem expressed condemnation of the attacks on places providing refuge for innocent civilians in the region.
On Thursday, 18 people, including nine children, were killed after two church halls collapsed in an attack on the St Porphyrios Greek Orthodox Church in Gaza City where hundreds of people were sheltering.
In the statement, the Church leaders denounced the attack and others like it that result in the death of civilians.
“In condemning this attack against a sacred place of refuge, we cannot ignore that this is but the latest instance of innocent civilians being injured or killed as a result of missile strikes against other shelters of last resort.”
The statement goes on to say that “despite the devastation wrought upon our own and other social, religious and humanitarian institutions, we the Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches, nevertheless remain fully committed to fulfilling our sacred and moral duty of offering assistance, support and refuge to those civilians who come to us in such desperate need.
“Even in the face of ceaseless military demands to evacuate our charitable institutions and houses of worship, we will not abandon this Christian mission, for there is literally no other safe place for these innocents to turn.
“Our Lord Jesus calls us to minister to the most vulnerable. And we must do so not only in times of peace. The church must especially act as the church in times of war, for that is when human suffering is at its greatest.”
The statement went on to call for all an immediate humanitarian ceasefire so vital aid supplies can be delivered as well as the international enforcement of protection for Sanctuaries of Refuge in Gaza.
In conclusion the Christian leaders added :
“We call upon all warring sides to de-escalate the violence, cease from indiscriminately targeting civilians on all sides and operate within the international rules of warfare. Only in this way, we believe, can the groundwork be laid for an eventual diplomatic consideration of longstanding grievances so that a just and lasting peace can finally be achieved throughout our beloved Holy Land – both in our time, and for generations to come.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury has gathered in prayer with the Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches. Most Rev Justin Welby has been visiting Jerusalem to offer pastoral support and solidarity to the Anglican community and those affected by the Israel Gaza conflict.