to violence in open letters to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, its news service reported Wednesday, August 29.

In the letters, Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, the Slated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), said his denomination deplores the "Israeli army’s latest occupation of areas in Bethlehem, Beit Sahour and Beit Jala, and especially the takeover of religious and humanitarian institutions."

He referred especially to the occupation of Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Reformation and the Lutheran Orphanage in the West Bank town of Beit Jala where 50 children and aid workers remained trapped Wednesday after Israeli troops raided the complex.  An Orthodox Club in Bethlehem was apparently also occupied.

Kirkpatrick said the Presbyterian Church USA denounces "in the strongest possible terms, the atrocities of the Israeli army including helicopter and jet fighter attacks, political assassinations, torture while in detention, house demolitions, and destruction of trees and other properties."

However he also warned Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to stop "suicide bombings and other forms of violence that not only kill innocent people and escalate the spiral of violence, but also pose a major stumbling block to any possible peace negotiations and a barrier to good will."

Kirkpatrick wrote Prime Minister Sharon that his letter "should come to you as an urgent plea from a constituency that has for as long as Israel has existed as a state, been praying and working for peace, and supporting Israel’s right to exist within secure borders."

He stressed however that the Presbyterian Church USA also supports "the Palestinians’ right" to self-determination. " With this plea, we also lift up our prayers to the God of justice and shalom to guide you and your government in the paths of peace," he wrote in this letter to Prime Minister Sharon.

Late Wednesday (August 29), Israeli and Palestinian leaders reached a cease-fire agreement, but it was not immediately clear when and if the army occupation of the Lutheran compound, including the orphanage, would end.


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