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NCC joins call for US brokered cease-fire in Mideast 

Washington, DC, July 21, 2006 – The National Council of Churches USA and its partner humanitarian ministry, Church World Service, are among 16 religious organizations calling for President Bush to “work with other world leaders to secure an immediate cease-fire in the violent conflict raging now between Hezbollah and Israel.” 

The urgency of the request was expressed in a letter from Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP), an ecumenical group of Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox churches and religious organizations in the United States.  The Rev. Bob Edgar, general secretary of the NCC, and the Rev. John McCullough, executive director of CWS, signed on to today’s letter. 

“Your presidential leadership and the full weight of the United States, acting in concert with the international community, must be applied now to achieve an immediate cease-fire and to launch an intensive diplomatic initiative for the cessation of hostilities,” wrote the religious leaders.  Recent news reports indicated a possible reluctance on the part of the president to call for a cease-fire.   

The CMEP letter comes as the Middle East Council of Churches reports nearly 750 killed, 1,200 injured and 650,000 people displace in Lebanon.  Writing from Beirut, Guirgis I. Saleh, general secretary of the MECC, said, “Heavy shelling has targeted residential buildings and innocent civilians, in addition to the destruction of factories (milk) and farms." 

The MECC has condemned Israel’s incursion into Lebanon.  It has also reactivated its emergency relief agency to assist the innocent victims of this latest Mideast violence. 

Complete text of the letter and its signatories and the MECC report follows: 

July 21, 2006 

The Honorable George W. Bush
The White House
Washington, DC  20500 

Dear President Bush: 

We urge you to work with other world leaders to secure an immediate cease-fire in the violent conflict raging now between Hezbollah and Israel. 

We are deeply concerned for the innocent victims of the attacks and reprisals between non-state parties in Lebanon and the government of Israel.  This violent conflict has created a grave humanitarian crisis, and no hoped-for benefit should outweigh the cause of saving innocent lives. 

If this conflict continues, the current humanitarian crisis could escalate toward a catastrophe.  Already in the first days of attacks and reprisals, reports say that 34 Israelis have been killed, including 15 civilians, others injured, and thousands have been made to leave their homes, and, in Lebanon, at least 335 people, most of them civilians, are reported killed and hundreds of thousands have been displaced or sought refuge in other countries. 

In the face of such a humanitarian crisis, calls for the fighting parties to be restrained in their actions fall short of what is needed.  Your presidential leadership and the full weight of the United States, acting in concert with the international community, must be applied now to launch an immediate cease-fire and to launch an intensive diplomatic initiative for the cessation of hostilities. This is a necessary first step toward the diplomatic resolution of this crisis and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the way toward a comprehensive Middle East peace.  

Sincerely,

Leaders of churches and churches-related organizations of Churches for Middle East Peace  

Dr. Robb Davis                                                  
Executive Director, Mennonite Central Committee 

Marie Dennis
Director, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns 

Rev. Robert Edgar
General Secretary, National Council of Churches USA  

Rev. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson
General Secretary, Reformed Church in America 

The Most Rev. Frank T. Griswold
Presiding Bishop, The Episcopal Church 

The Rev. Mark S. Hanson
Presiding Bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America 

The Rev. Dr. Stan Hastey
Executive Director, Alliance of Baptists 

Very Rev. Dominic Izzo, OP
President, Roman Catholic Conference of Major Superiors of Men's Institutes  

Rev. Dr. Clifton Kirkpatrick
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, Presbyterian Church, (USA) 

Rev. John L. McCullough
Executive Director & CEO, Church World Service 

Metropolitan PHILIP Saliba
Archbishop of New York and Metropolitan of North America,
Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of North America   

Rev. William G. Sinkford
President, Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations

 Rev. John H. Thomas
General Minister and President, United Church of Christ 

Joe Volk
Executive Secretary, Friends Committee on National Legislation 

The Rev. Dr. Sharon E. Watkins
General Minister and President, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)  

James W. Winkler
General Secretary, General Board of Church and Society, United Methodist Church

Text of the July 21 report of the Middle East Council of Churches 

During the past 24 hours, the Israeli military operations have grown in intensity, with the use of internationally banned arms, particularly in the South of Lebanon, the southern suburbs of Beirut, the Beqa’. Heavy shelling has targeted residential buildings and innocent civilians, in addition to the destruction of factories (milk) and farms. The Israeli army has tried to advance into Lebanese territory, facing strong resistance by Hizbollah fighters. 

Since our last update of July 19, the death toll has reached around 750 (including those still buried under the rubbles) and the number of the injured has gone up to 1,200.  650,000 persons are now reported to have been displaced.  Entire villages are burnt and destroyed, hundreds of families have been torn apart and basic infrastructure (buildings, bridges, highways, electric power stations, gas stations to every port on the Lebanese coast, the International airport as well as small military airports) severely damaged. 

Despite the many centers opened for the population in the different sectors of Beirut and regions of Lebanon where the displaced have taken refuge, hundreds have settled in public gardens and parks where tents have been installed. 

The blockade has lead to the decreasing availability of fuel, butane gas and fuel oil, as well as food and medicines.  As a result, prices have gone up and fluctuate from one hour to the other.  

MECC/ ICNDR was able to start its response thanks to the rapid response and support provided by the Mennonite Central Committee in Lebanon.  ICNDR’s immediate action reached 260 displaced families in Mount Lebanon and Beirut, providing food supplies.  This was implemented with the help of local partners and associations.   

Field trips carried by ICNDR staff and freelancers revealed the extent of the need for immediate intervention.  Data concerning the displaced including numbers and their most urgent needs are available. Implementation will be possible with the availability of funds, particularly in the North, Beqaa, Beirut and Mount Lebanon.  As for the South, the relief operations will be very difficult due to continuous shelling, air raids and complete destruction of roads.  Two colleagues Ghaith Maalouf and Robert Nicolas and their families are safe and managed to flee the shelling targeting civilians in their villages.  The church they had sought refuge in was damaged and 5 were injured.  Nevertheless, ICNDR local partners are ready to secure goods from the local markets and arrange for their distribution in coordination with the Lebanese army and Red Cross. 

In Beshwet, the ICNDR center for the mentally handicapped opened its doors to 75 displaced persons mostly women and children and is relying on friends and neighbors as the only source of support to secure food on a daily basis. 

It should be noted that the Lebanese population living in the proximity of centers for the displaced is expressing solidarity and providing support to the displaced families, offering hot meals, clothes, blankets, sheets and other basic items. 

In Beirut, ICNDR staff are deploying efforts and working with the municipality to secure water to one of the referral centers, a public garden, where 100 families are settled and where no facilities or access to water are available. Food items were offered yesterday morning to these families. 

In the North, the expressed priorities include mattresses, sheets, diapers, infant formula and medication for chronic diseases in the areas of Tripoli, Akkar and Batroun. 

The evacuation of non-nationals continues by sea to Cyprus or by land via Syria. 

*Photos of Wounded Lebanon are posted on the MECC website at: www.mec-churches.org 

Guirgis I. Saleh, General Secretary, Middle East Council of Churches


Contact: Daniel Webster, 212-870-2252, dwebster@councilofchurches.org

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