Pope Benedict XVI and the general secretary of the World Council of Churches, the Rev. Samuel Kobia, have condemned violence in Gaza, calling for its immediate cessation following an intense bombing campaign by Israel there.Speaking during his weekly Angelus prayer at the Vatican on 28 December, the Pope said, “I implore an end to the violence which must be denounced in all its forms and a restoration of the truce on the Gaza Strip.” The pontiff said, “I call on the international community to do all it can to help the Israelis and Palestinians on this dead-end road … and not to give in to the perverse logic of confrontation and violence but to favour the path of dialogue and negotiations.”In Geneva on 29 December the Rev. Kobia said in a statement that he condemned “the violence against Gaza” and he called on “governments in the region and abroad” to seek to protect “those who are at risk … on both sides of the border”. “The deaths and suffering of the last three days are dreadful and shameful and will achieve nothing but more deaths and suffering,” Kobia said following the “bombardment of one of the most densely populated places on earth”. He said, “This must stop immediately.”Israel says the Hamas movement, which is in control of Gaza, is firing rockets across the border from there. Hamas said on 29 December that at least 312 Palestinians had died since attacks began the previous day, while a second Israeli had been killed by a rocket. The UN relief agency in Gaza said on the same day that 57 civilians had been killed by Israeli fire so far, including five girls who died in the town of Jabaliya in Gaza.Kobia’s statement reiterated previous WCC calls on “the government of Israel and Hamas to respect international humanitarian and human rights law” and warned that in the present crisis the use of Israeli military ground forces “would deepen the current disaster”.His statement criticised “policies that rely on cutting off shipments of food, medicine and fuel for 1.5 million Gazans, and on sending rockets across borders at random or ‘surgically'”. He added, “a terrible period of deadlock and deprivation has now erupted into greater violence”. The WCC leader’s statement referred to “the tired logic of public officials blaming others while denying their own government’s responsibilities has led to the loss of many lives”.In Jerusalem the Rabbis for Human Rights group issued a statement on 29 December saying, “The firing on Israeli communities adjacent to Gaza gives the State of Israel the right to defend her citizens, but both the Jewish tradition and international law do not allow the harming of innocent civilians.”The rabbis said “Many Israelis will quote from the Talmudic Tractate Sanhedrin, ‘When somebody is coming to kill you, get up earlier and kill him first’. However, few are aware of how the Talmud continues, teaching us only to use the minimum necessary force and drawing a sharp contrast between defending ourselves against those attacking us, and harming an innocent third-party. These are also principles in International Humanitarian Law.”Earlier, in their yearly Christmas message the heads of churches in Jerusalem had said “We need the light of Christ to shine on this Land to enable us to work more realistically for a two-State solution which would end the burden of restrictions arising out of occupation.” They said in their message, “We need also to see the situation in which many are suffering in Gaza in the light of Christ and make a determined effort to bring them urgent relief.”The church leaders said they prayed that U.S. President-elect Barack Obama and other world leaders would see the urgent need for peace in the Middle East and the Holy Land.In Geneva, ACT International, the global humanitarian alliance of churches and related agencies, warned of a dramatic escalation of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, if Israel, Hamas and other militant groups do not cease the current hostilities and avert a new military conflict.”The humanitarian consequences for innocent civilians will be even more grave than they already are if all parties do not immediately end all attacks and begin a new ceasefire,” said John Nduna, director of ACT International.