Christian leaders in Jerusalem have issued an urgent call to warring Palestinian factions to stop fighting, and have warned that the conflict risks undermining the campaign to achieve an independent Palestinian state.
"This domestic fighting where the brother draws his weapon in the face of his brother is detrimental to all the aspirations of achieving security and stability for the Palestinian people," the patriarchs and heads of churches said in a June 14 appeal.
More than 80 people, mostly gunmen but also children and other civilians, are reported to have been killed in five days of fighting between the two major Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas.
The church leaders said the fighting was diverting international attention away from the "Palestinian people's hope of attaining independence together with freedom from occupation."
The Jerusalem leaders declared, "In the name of the one and only God, as well as in the name of each devastated Palestinian, many of whom are still dying, we urge our brothers in the Fatah and Hamas movements to listen to the voice of reason, truth and wisdom."
"So we implore that you immediately announce the cessation of all bloody fighting and return back to the path of dialogue, and attempt through understanding to solve all differences," the Christian leaders urged in their appeal distributed by the Jerusalem Inter-Church Center.
Much of the international community cut financial aid to the Palestinian Authority in 2006, when Hamas won legislative elections and took over the Palestinian government, whilst refusing to rescind its commitment to destroy Israel.
In January, fighting broke out between militants belonging to Hamas and those linked to the Fatah movement of Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority. The following month, the two groups signed an agreement to share power but armed skirmishes have continued since then.
In their statement, the church leaders noted that the fighting between Palestinian factions was taking place in the month that marks 40 years of Israeli occupation of Arab territories captured during six days of fighting in 1967.
"On the recent 40th anniversary of the occupation we urged all sides to work for peace and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. How painful and awful then that now we have to say stop all domestic fighting," the leaders said.