Aid agencies worry about civilians caught in Israeli-Hamas crossfire

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  • January 8, 2009
{mosimage}OTTAWA - Catholic aid agencies have raised concerns about Gaza’s civilian population as war rages between Israel and Hamas.

The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace and Catholic Near East Welfare Association Canada have echoed Pope Benedict XVI’s call for an immediate, unconditional ceasefire.

“At this moment our primary request and our primary concern is for the civilian population caught in the fire between Israel and Hamas militants,” said Development and Peace international program director Gilio Brunelli.

“It’s important to note there are 4,000 Christians in Gaza,” said CNEWA Canada general secretary Carl Hetu, who stressed the important role Christian organizations play in peace and reconciliation.

Brunelli said he recognized the roots of the conflict are complex, but stressed “both sides must put down their weapons without preconditions.” The lives of tens of thousands of people who have nothing to do with this war are at stake.

“The situation is bad. People are dying in the streets with nobody able to help them.”

Brunelli said the Israeli army is blocking humanitarian organizations and journalists from entering Gaza. The 1.5-million people living there have run out of flour, water is scarce and electricity has been cut off and fuel for generators is running out.

“We want all sides to abide by international conventions and let humanitarian organizations have access to victims of the conflict,” Brunelli said.

According to reports in the Jerusalem Post, the Israeli army is trucking in humanitarian aid, but Hetu said the army had already starting blocking outside aid about two months before its Dec. 28 invasion.

While both Hetu and Brunelli expressed concerns about the rocket attacks from Hamas on Israeli civilians that prompted the invasion, they noted the Israelis have access to medical care, food and water.

Hetu said it is difficult to persuade people to support humanitarian relief in Gaza when the struggle is portrayed as a religious conflict. He recalled hearing a news report where a Jewish soldier and a Hamas militant were both praying to God that their side would win.

Christians are praying for peace, he said, noting the aid from Christian organizations like CNEWA and Development and Peace goes to everyone in need, regardless of religion.

The fighting in Gaza is only the most recent in 60 years of conflict since the creation of the state of Israel, he said. Christians are being pushed from the region and now comprise only two per cent of the population of the Holy Land, he said.

While both organizations are Catholic and often co-operate, CNEWA is an organization of the Holy See for the churches of the Middle East, while Development and Peace and Caritas Jerusalem are part of Caritas Internationalis, an umbrella group for the Latin church’s charitable organizations.

CNEWA’s Jerusalem office supports three clinics in Gaza for mothers and children, while Development and Peace helps Caritas Jerusalem support a clinic in Gaza. It now has no electricity and personnel have been denied access to the site, Brunelli said.

Both organizations will be raising funds to support civilians in Gaza.  More information can be found at www.devp.org and www.cnewacanada.ca .

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