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New Middle East forum to unite church efforts for peace

05 September 2006

In a major new initiative, the central committee of the World Council of Churches (WCC) has endorsed proposals to establish a comprehensive ecumenical advocacy initiative for peace in the Middle East, and has reiterated its alarm at the dramatic humanitarian consequences and alleged violations of international law during the recent war in Lebanon and northern Israel. 

In a "statement on the war in Lebanon and northern Israel, and ecumenical action for Middle East peace," central committee members approved the creation of a Palestine/Israel Ecumenical Forum under the auspices of the WCC, which would "catalyse and co-ordinate" new and existing church advocacy for peace, aim at ending the illegal occupation of Palestinian territories in accordance with UN resolutions, and would "demonstrate its commitment to inter-religious action for peace and to justice that serves all peoples of the region."

"Churches, other civil society groups and a number of governments are eager to see a radical re-engagement by the international community in peaceful and equitable resolutions of the conflict in Lebanon and related conflicts in the Middle East," the statement said.  

"May a united ecumenical community - in prayer and action - make a new and substantial contribution to peace with justice in the Middle East."  

The Forum initiative was proposed earlier in the meeting by the WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia. The WCC leader also announced his intention to personally visit churches in the region in the near future. 

The statement was issued following the report to central committee of an ecumenical delegation that visited Beirut and Jerusalem in early August, and an address by Lebanese government minister Dr Tarek Mitri, which gave evidence of the devastating consequences of the conflict. 

Expressing its "shock and profound sorrow" at the suffering and loss of life in both northern Israel and Lebanon, the central committee statement also expressed its "alarm" at the "violations of international law on armed conflict by the combatants in this war and by the international community's failure to ensure the protection of civilians and the proportionate use of military force." 

The central committee called for a sustainable and unconditional ceasefire, and lifting of the blockade of Lebanon. 

The statement urges the United Nations to establish an international inquiry to investigate violations of international humanitarian law during the recent conflict, and insisted on the release or trial according to international norms of all detainees held by parties to the conflict. 

In other actions related to the Middle East region, the public issues committee expressed concern at the failure of the government of Israel to ratify the election of the head of the Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem, Patriarch Theophilos III, thereby obstructing the church from carrying out regular legal functions. 

RELATED LINKS:

The full text of the statement on the war in Lebanon and Northern Israel, and ecumenical action for Middle East peace is available on the WCC website

The full texts of recent WCC statements on the Middle East are available in the WCC on-line press room 

Other statements by churches and church-related groups appear on the Decade to Overcome Violence website

More information on the WCC Central Committee meeting is available on the WCC website