World must intervene in Gaza, Christian leaders say

VATICAN CITY Tue Dec 30, 2008 3:47pm GMT

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Christian leaders in Jerusalem called on Tuesday for global intervention to stop the Gaza conflict and urged Israelis and Palestinians to "return to their senses."

Medical officials say more than 380 Palestinians have been killed since Israel launched bombing raids on Saturday designed to stop rocket salvoes from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

In a joint statement issued by the Vatican, patriarchs, bishops and heads of Christian churches in Jerusalem also pressed all parties to chose non-violent methods to resolve their disputes.

"We also call on the international community to fulfill its responsibilities and intervene immediately and actively to stop the bloodshed and end all forms of confrontation," they said.

Signatories included the Catholic "Custos of the Holy Land," who oversee major Christian pilgrimage sites, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch, the Syrian Orthodox Patriarch and a bishop from the Evangelical Lutheran Church.

"We believe that the continuation of this bloodshed and violence will not lead to peace and justice but breed more hatred and hostility -- and thus continued confrontation between the two peoples," they wrote.

Pope Benedict, the leader of the world's 1.1 billion Catholics, has repeatedly called for an end to the fighting and issued a high-profile appeal for peace at Christmas. On Sunday, he pressed all sides to abandon the "perverse logic of conflict and violence."

Vatican officials are exploring the possibility of the pope's first visit to the Holy Land since his 2005 election.

The Vatican supports Israel's right to exist within secure borders alongside an independent Palestinian state and hopes a papal trip could help political and religious dialogue aimed at Middle East peace.

(Writing by Phil Stewart; Editing by Katie Nguyen)

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