Church Groups Deplore Harm to Gaza Civilians

As Israel's assault on Hamas in the Gaza Strip mounts, Christian groups are increasingly speaking out against the attacks on civilians, especially children, who make up more than half of the Gaza population.

"It is the most vulnerable – children and other civilians – who experience the greatest suffering in these situations," highlighted international humanitarian aid World Vision in a statement. "Furthermore, an untold number of children in Gaza and southern Israel live in fear as a result of the broken ceasefire.

"We mourn for all those killed and are deeply concerned with the lasting impact of this violence on the affected populations," the agency added.

On Saturday morning, the Israeli military dropped leaflets over northern Gaza to warn civilians to "leave the area immediately," according to CNN. Israeli tanks are crouching on the Gaza border waiting for orders to invade and Israeli ground troops began moving into Gaza on Saturday, according to Israel Defense Forces.

Now in its eighth day, the Israel-Gaza conflict has resulted in at least 421 deaths and 2,200 people injured in Gaza, according to Palestinian medical sources. Israeli authorities say four Israelis have died and 57 have been wounded since Dec. 27.

The latest outbreak of violence in Gaza is the worst in terms of casualties since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

Among the innocent civilians caught in the crossfire is the small Christian community in Gaza.

"They (Christians) are not part of Hamas, they're not Israelis or they're not Jewish, they're not Muslim, they're Christians," said Dr. Carl Moeller, president/CEO of Open Doors USA to The Christian Post this week.

While Moeller readily acknowledges Hamas has "provoked" the attack by Israel by firing rockets into Israeli territory, he highlights the amount of return damage to Gaza is "unbelievable."

"So many unarmed women and children are being killed," Moeller lamented. "It's hard to imagine this is just a response to rocket attacks to Israel. "

"I think it's really part of a larger plan of Israel to once and for all eradicate Hamas as a military force."

The ministry leader whose organization works with the persecuted churches warns that Israel's plan might backfire if suffering Gaza citizens turn to Hamas under Israeli bombardment.

President Bush and his administration responded to the Gaza situation by blaming Hamas for "instigat[ing]" the violence by Israel. Bush has called the Hamas attacks an "act of terror" and said no cease-fire deal would be acceptable until the flow of smuggled weapons to terrorist groups is stopped.

"The United States is leading diplomatic efforts to achieve a meaningful cease-fire that is fully respected," Bush said in his weekly radio address Saturday. "Another one-way cease-fire that leads to rocket attacks on Israel is not acceptable. And promises from Hamas will not suffice – there must be monitoring mechanisms in place to help ensure that smuggling of weapons to terrorist groups in Gaza comes to an end."

Although Bush's radio address was taped for broadcast Saturday, it was released a day early,marking the first time Bush himself had spoken about the worst Mideast violence in decades. Up until Friday, the White House spokesman had offered comments about the violence.

"There is no question that those (Gaza-launched rockets into Israel) are random acts of violence that are targeting Israeli civilians," Moeller agreed. "Absolutely true.

"But it does not make it right, however, to retaliate with overwhelming firepower against Gaza citizens," he added. "I agree that Israel is between a rock and a hard place with Gaza because Hamas, in particular, has vowed to use civilians as cover for its activities."

Although this is a "despicable" act, it doesn't justify the other party to "act despicably" as well, Moeller said.

"That is why I really believe the only hope for peace in the Middle East is the Prince of Peace Jesus Christ and his followers evidencing a same opportunity to dialogue," he said.

The Open Door USA president noted that the Gaza Baptist Church building was heavily damaged last weekend when an Israeli bomb was dropped on the main police station in Gaza city across the street. All the church's windows were shattered as a result of the nearby bombing.

World Vision and other Christian groups have called for both sides to agree to a cease-fire.

"We utterly condemn Hamas's rocket attacks on Israeli civilians," said Allyn Dhynes, advocacy manager with World Vision in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. "At the same time, we cannot justify this overwhelming military action by the Israelis which is killing and injuring many innocent civilians."

The World Council of Churches, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the International Justice and Peace of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the National Council of Churches USA are among the church bodies that have called for a cease-fire between Gaza and Israel.