Lemopoulos will also meet with the other patriarchs and heads of churches and Christian communities in Jerusalem to discuss, amongst other issues, the recent ecumenical efforts with regard to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Lemopoulos will be accompanied by Salpy Eskidjian from the WCC International Relations team.
They will meet with local members of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), as well as with Israeli and Palestinian non-governmental organizations, to support the local preparations for the first accompaniment group, scheduled for June.
Although the last visit of a WCC delegation dates back to June 2001, Lemopoulos stresses the permanent involvement of the WCC in the region: "We have accompanied the churches and their communities and advocated for their rights on a daily basis since the beginning of the Second Palestinian Uprising", he explained.
"With the support of its governing bodies and member churches, the WCC has intensified its actions over the past year, focusing on removing the root causes of the present conflict. At the same time we have continued to do our utmost to alleviate the daily suffering of the Palestinian people", Lemopoulos added.
Eskidjian is "extremely concerned that the situation in Palestine and Israel has deteriorated radically since our last visit. Only in the last few weeks, Israeli defence forces launched their most expansive military operation since 1982. In one month, over 180 Palestinians, mainly civilians, have been killed, bringing the death toll since the start of the Second Intifada to over 1200. The Israeli death toll, now over 300, has also risen sharply in the past month."
"We strongly believe that Christians all over the world have a moral obligation to speak out in the face of so much suffering", Eskidjian said. "While the statistics of human rights violations is horrendous, we need to go beyond this to address the causes and the remedies."
Referring to WCC's ecumenical campaign to "End the Illegal Occupation of Palestine: Support a Just Peace in the Middle East" as the first focus of the Decade to Overcome Violence: Churches Seeking Reconciliation and Peace (2001-2010), Eskidjian sees the visit as an expression of solidarity: "We are going to Jerusalem to express the solidarity and prayers of the ecumenical family worldwide, which is mobilizing together to break the conspiracy of silence against a people languishing under the last remaining military occupation in history."
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