Israel must stop its “relentless bombardment” of Gaza, leading bishops in the Church of England have said as they insisted the manner in which the war is taking place there “cannot be morally justified”.
The strongly worded statement, from the House of Bishops, also warns the war cannot end up with the “consolidation of a system of occupation that has for too long denied Palestinians their rights and freedoms”.
It comes amid concerns about the prospect of a military offensive in Rafah.
The town, on the border with Egypt, is one of the few regions not yet targeted by an Israeli ground offensive and is providing refuge to more than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million population who have fled fighting elsewhere.
The bishops’ warning comes after Foreign Secretary Lord David Cameron said many of the people in Rafah had already fled from other areas and that it is “impossible to see how you can fight a war amongst these people, there is nowhere for them to go”.
Lord Cameron called for an “immediate pause” in the fighting which would hopefully lead to a “sustainable ceasefire”.
In a statement on Tuesday, the House of Bishops – which is made up of more than 50 bishops including the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, said: “With the onset of Israel’s ground offensive into Rafah, we call for an immediate ceasefire.
“The relentless bombardment of Gaza and its huge cost in civilian lives and civilian infrastructure must stop. The manner in which this war is being prosecuted cannot be morally justified.”
Last month the International Court of Justice (ICJ) stopped short of ordering a ceasefire in Gaza in a genocide case filed by South Africa.
But it demanded that Israel tries to contain death and damage in its military offensive.
The House of Bishops said: “We urge Israel to adhere to the ICJ order and to ensure that Palestinians have access to food, water, healthcare, and safety, that have long been denied to them.
“We welcome the Foreign Secretary’s recent call for an immediate pause in the fighting and would also welcome further representation to the Government of Israel about the way that it is exercising its right to self-defence and to affirm adherence to international law.”
The bishops repeated calls for the remaining Israeli hostages to be released as well as an end to missile attacks by Hamas.
They said: “All sides must begin to imagine a future beyond this conflict: for a just peace for Israelis and Palestinians.
“This war can’t result in the consolidation of a system of occupation that has for too long denied Palestinians their rights and freedoms.”
The bishops once again condemned “all antisemitic and anti-Muslim sentiment” in the UK.
They said: “We are horrified by the growing threats and abuses of Jews on university campuses, in our neighbourhoods, and online.
“We appeal to our communities to be safe for all people whatever their nationality, ethnicity or religion.
“For our own part, we commit to working alongside our fellow faith leaders for the common good, despite and with our differences.”