The Archbishop of Canterbury has condemned the bombing of civilians in Gaza and stressed the urgent need for a ceasefire and the setting up of a humanitarian aid corridor into the territory under siege from Israel.
Speaking in Jerusalem, Justin Welby called for an end to the bloodshed in which thousands have been killed.
Following attacks on Israel by Hamas, intensive air strikes on Gaza have resulted in 4,651 deaths, according to Palestinian authorities.
The archbishop gave a sermon at the Cathedral of St George in Jerusalem on Sunday calling for peace. Speaking afterwards he said: All bombings of civilians is wrong. We have called for a ceasefire and safe humanitarian passage.
Everyone knows how difficult and chaotic wars are. The essential is that the principles of just fighting a war and the discrimination principal between combatants and non-combatants need to be held to really, really strictly. In an urban environment it’s hard to exaggerate how hard that is, but also [how] necessary that is.”
Palestinian officials say several hundred people were killed in Al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza City, with the Israelis and Islamic Jihad, an allied group to Hamas, blaming each other for the attack. Israel disputes the death toll. The archbishop said that he had “no idea about how many civilians there were” at the hospital, before adding: "What I have said to people, publicly, is: ‘Don’t assume it's Israel’.”
Places of worship have also been hit, including strikes on the Greek Orthodox Saint Porphyrius Church in Gaza City and a mosque in Jenin in the West Bank. The Israeli military claims both locations were being used by Hamas. Standing beside the Archbishop of Jerusalem, Hosam Naoum, Archbishop Welby said: “Bombing of religious institutions is wrong.”
Church leaders in Jerusalem joined the archbishop in condemning airstrikes on civilians and the church in Gaza City, as well as urging help for refugees.
They said in a statement: “We, the patriarchs and heads of the churches in Jerusalem, having gathered in prayer with Jerusalem’s honourable guest, the Most Reverend Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, join with him in expressing, in the strongest possible terms, our condemnation of the Israeli airstrikes that exploded without warning at the Orthodox Church compound of Saint Porphyrios in Gaza.
“In condemning this attack against a sacred place of refuge, we cannot ignore that this is but the latest instance of innocent civilians being injured or killed as a result of missile strikes against other shelters of last resort. We nevertheless remain fully committed to fulfilling our sacred and moral duty of offering assistance, support, and refuge to those civilians who come to us in such desperate need,” the statement added. “The church must especially act as the church in times of war, for that is when human suffering is at its greatest.”
The archbishop met with the families of hostages taken by Hamas after the cathedral service. Before leaving for Israel he had said in a statement “I appeal again for hostages to be released and for civilians to be protected. I join the international call for all parties to grant immediate, safe humanitarian access into Gaza to prevent further loss of life. I pray again for the peace of Jerusalem, in solidarity with the Church in the holy land. I grieve with Israelis and Palestinians still mourning and in fear.”
The archbishop continued: “It is unconscionable that aid is being prevented from reaching children and adults who are not combatants in this war. It is indefensible that hospitals, schools and refugee camps are being struck. It is an outrage that hostages are being held by Hamas.
“The evil and heinous terror attacks by Hamas on people in Israel were crimes against God and humanity. Israel has a legitimate right and duty to defend itself, and to pursue a proportionate and discriminate response to establish its security,” he said.
However, he added: “Israel’s bombing campaign on the heavily populated Gaza Strip is causing massive civilian casualties and suffering. The people of Gaza are running out of water, food, medical supplies and places of refuge.”