The leaders of the Catholic and Church of Ireland churches in Ireland have appealed for a cease to the hostilities in Gaza.

A man looks at the destroyed Palestinian parliament building after an Israeli air strike in Gaza January 1, 2009. (Reuters)

In a joint statement released on Wednesday, Cardinal Sen Brady, Catholic Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, and the Church of Ireland Primate and Archbishop of Armagh, the Most Revd Alan Harper, OBE, spoke of their visit to the Holy Land in 2008, and their “distress and deepening concern for all innocent victims” which they have experienced following the “unfolding tragedy of Gaza.”

“We call upon the authorities in both Israel and Gaza immediately to disengage and cease all hostilities to enable a permanent ceasefire to be negotiated. Only when violence has ceased will it be possible to begin to negotiate a peace that will last.

The Church leaders called upon all people of faith “to pray for all caught up in the conflict.”

They concluded: ” We also call upon the international community and particularly the United States and the European Union to bring maximum influence to bear to end all violence immediately and to create conditions that will lead to a just peace for Palestinians and Israelis alike.”

In Dublin, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said he joined “with the prayers of people all around the world in the hope of an immediate ceasefire and of a renewed commitment by all parties, in the entire region and beyond, to create a climate of peace.”

“How is it that with all our developments in humanity in our times, there are still attempts to think that peace can be achieved by violence and force of arms?” the archbishop of Dublin asked in a homily for the world Day of Peace yesterday.

“How is it that weapons are poured in unlimited supply into a situation already tense while at the same time ordinary men and women in the same villages and towns cannot receive the aid necessary for their survival? We pray for peace in that land where the loving-kindness of God appeared in Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace.”

According to the UN’s relief agency, Unwra, Gaza is facing a dire humanitarian situation and is on the brink of catastrophe. Spokesman Chris Gunness told BBC that food distribution had restarted to thousands of Palestinians, but the operation faced “huge and difficult problems”.

“We do see for the very first time people going through the rubbish dumps looking for things, people begging, which is quite a new phenomenon.” However, Capt Benjamin Rutland of the Israeli Defence Force told the BBC that enough food and medical supplies were getting through.

U.S. Bishops

The chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace is calling for a high-level U.S. representative to be sent to the Middle East to help negotiate peace between Israel and Hamas.

This appeal came in a letter Tuesday from Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany, New York, to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

“The rocket attacks on Israel must be stopped, and Israel’s military attacks on Gaza halted,” the bishop wrote. “Our [bishops’] conference believes that more than words are needed. We ask you to urge the president to send a high-level personal representative to the region immediately to help negotiate a ceasefire and make provision for humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza.”

Today, as the fighting continued for the sixth day in the Middle East, more than 400 Gazans had been killed.

“The toll in human deaths and suffering, the negative effects on progress in negotiations for peace and the risks of wider war caused by this escalation of violence cannot be allowed to continue,” Bishop Hubbard exhorted. “Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, has called on the international community to help Israelis and Palestinians to discard the ‘dead end’ of violence and pursue instead ‘the path of dialogue and negotiations.’ Immediate, visible and decisive U.S. leadership is urgently needed.”

The prelate lamented that at a time when Christians’ attention is “drawn naturally to the birthplace of the Prince of Peace, it is tragic that innocent civilians are once again the victims of armed conflict and a humanitarian crisis.”

“A ceasefire and humanitarian relief are indispensable initial steps on the road to a two-state solution — a secure Israel living in peace with a viable Palestinian state — with justice and peace for both peoples,” he concluded.