By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL (BosNewsLife)– The World Council of Churches (WCC) condemned on Monday, December 29, ongoing Israeli airstrikes against the militant Islamist group Hamas and its infrastructure in the Gaza Strip, which reportedly killed over 300 Palestinians, injured up to 1,000, and put the territory’s Christian minority in the crossfire.
“The deaths and suffering of the last three days are dreadful and shameful and will achieve nothing but more deaths and suffering,” said WCC General Secretary Samuel Kobia in a statement to BosNewsLife.
The bombing raids added to fears of minority Christians, who have been trapped in Gaza since Hamas wrested control of the area away from the more moderate mainstream Fatah faction of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, over a year ago.
They are now in the crossfire as besides Israeli attacks, church groups reported Islamic violence against Gaza’s tiny Christian community of some 3,500 people. Over the past two years, al-Qaeda-affiliated groups have reportedly claimed responsibility for attacks against Christian figures and institutions in an attempt to drive Christians out of Gaza, according to church leaders.
But with Israeli forces controlling borders around Gaza, it has been difficult for Christians to leave. Christian resident Esther Al Najjar told Arabic television station Al Jazeera she and her daughters were unable to visit family in Bethlehem, where Christians believe Jesus was born.
And, with no electricity, cooking gas or flower, it was not possible to prepare a traditional Christmas lunch these days. “Look what we I have to cook with. This karosen devise. It means I can’t make our usual Christmas meal. There is no electricity, so everything in the refrigerator has gone off,” she said.
At the local church, Christians were trying to leave Gaza, but the Israeli military reportedly allowed less than half of the over 700 believers applying for permissions to cross the checkpoints. They were believed to be among those hiding in shelters late Monday, December 29, as the Israeli military bombed Gaza for a third day in response to rockets fired by Hamas deep into Israel.
Speaking before a special session of the Israeli parliament Monday, December 29, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Israel faces an “all-out war” against Hamas. He said the military operation is complicated but has been well prepared.
Barak warned that the operation would expand and deepen as needed, adding – “we know what the goal is and we pursue it with determination.” A spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told reporters that operations will continue until the people of southern Israel no longer live in fear of Palestinian rocket attacks.
WCC General Secretary Kobia said however that with “over 300 lives lost, more than 1,000 people wounded, [and] uncounted thousands traumatized” the “bombardment of one of the most densely populated places on earth must stop immediately.”
He stressed however that his organization, which claims to represent some 560 million Christians, has urged both “the government of Israel and Hamas to respect international humanitarian and human rights law.”
Kobia cautioned that the use of Israeli military ground forces “would deepen the current disaster,” further threatening crucial shipments of food, medicine and fuel for 1.5 million Gazans.
Only a small number of wounded Palestinians has crossed from Gaza into Egypt and some medical supplies have come in from Egypt via the Rafah border crossing, news reports said.