Churches in the Middle East denounced Israel's blockade of Gaza as an "immoral act" that has cut off the entire country from proper food and medicine.
The Rev. Munib A. Younan, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, called the blockade of Gaza "illegal collective punishment, an immoral act in violation of the basic human and natural laws as well as International Law," in a statement issued Jan. 22 – a day before Hamas militants destroyed the Gaza-Egypt barrier.
Younan and other Holy Land church leaders added that the blockade "cannot be tolerated anymore" and "the siege over Gaza should end now."
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak had ordered the strip sealed off Jan. 17 because of persistent rocket fire from Gaza into Israel. But on Tuesday, the same day the letter was issued, Israel eased the blockade slightly transferring fuel to restart Gaza's only power plant, according to The Associated Press.
"To deny children and civilians their necessary basic commodities are not the ways to security but rather throw the region into further and more dangerous deterioration. This siege will not guarantee the end to rocket firing, but will only increase the bitterness and suffering and invite more revenge, while the innocents keep dying," the statement admonished.
The blockade "imprisoned" 1.5 million people "without proper food or medicine," the church leaders voiced with concern. The punishment left large parts of the Palestinian territory, which also borders Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea, without access to electricity.
True to the church leaders' words, a week after the blockade Hamas-linked militants knocked down the border wall separating Gaza and Egypt. On Wednesday, more than 50,000 Palestinians flooded into Egypt to stock up on needed supplies such as bread, oil, cheese, according to The Associated Press. Others carried crates of Coca-Cola, television sets, tires, furniture, car parts, shoes, generators, cleaning products, goats, chicken, cigarettes and even a motorcycle.
Egyptian officials as of Thursday have not attempted to reseal the broken border. Authorities have only begun to try to control the masses so they don't move deeper into Egypt.
U.S. and Arab officials said Wednesday that Egypt assured it would soon reseal its border with Gaza, according to AP.
Yet despite sympathy for trapped Gazans, the Christian leaders also acknowledged that Palestinians firing rockets at Israel give reason for people to see justification in the blockade.
The leaders advised Palestinian officials "to unite in ending their differences for the sake of their people in Gaza."
"Put the differences aside and deal with this crisis for the good of all human beings, demonstrating that you care for your brothers and sisters who have suffered enough already," they said.
"We pray for the day when the people of Gaza will be free from occupation, from political differences, from violence and from despair. We pray for the Israelis and Palestinians to respect human life and God's love for every human life, and to take all possible measures to end this suffering," said the church leaders.
Heads of churches in the Mideast that signed the statement included (Roman Catholic) Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah, Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III, Patriarch Torkom II Manooghian of the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church, Archbishop Anba Abraham of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate and Anglican Bishop Suheil Dawani.
Egypt reportedly told the United States it expected the Palestinian exodus from Gaza to end by midday Thursday.