Pastors and Christian leaders are calling for prayer and peace as the Middle East continues to see the worst violence in years between Israelis and Palestinians, prompting the United Nations to warn the conflict could mushroom into "full-scale war."
What began as riots in Jerusalem on May 10 led to an aerial war over Gaza and widespread civil unrest in less than two days, causing death, injuries, arrests and property damage.
The Islamic militant group Hamas has fired more than 1,000 rockets into Israel since the conflict began, most of which landed in civilians areas, The New York Times reports. Hamas' aggression led to retaliatory airstrikes from the Israel Defense Forces toward the Gaza Strip.
More than 80 Palestinians have been killed in the fighting, including 17 children and seven women, as of Thursday morning, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry. And another 480 people have been wounded. Israeli forces also killed a senior Hamas commander and at least 10 top Hamas military figures.
At least seven people have been killed in Israel, including a soldier killed by an anti-tank missile and a 6-year-old child hit in a rocket attack, according to The Associated Press.
The airstrikes were preceded by the clashes between rioters and Israeli authorities at the historic Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. The violence led to the rerouting of the historic Jerusalem Day Flag March, which celebrates the unification of Israel in 1967.
On Wednesday, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland warned that the ongoing conflict could lead to a “full-scale war.”
"Stop the fire immediately. We're escalating towards a full-scale war," tweeted Wennesland. "The cost of war in Gaza is devastating & is being paid by ordinary people. UN is working w/ all sides to restore calm. Stop the violence now."
Meanwhile, pastors and Christian leaders in the United States took to social media to urge Christians to pray for peace in the Middle East.
“My heart goes out to the people impacted through the heightened Middle East conflict," Pastor Tony Evans of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, Texas, tweeted. "Having recently visited that region, I'm reminded of the many wonderful people I met, and request us all to pray for those who are suffering.”
Ed Young, the pastor of Fellowship Church in Grapevine, Texas, wrote: “Pray with me. For protection of the innocent. For peace. For loved ones lost. For our leaders. In Jesus name. #PrayForIsrael”
Franklin Graham, son of famed evangelist Billy Graham and head of Samaritan’s Purse, wrote that he has many friends who live in Israel, both Arabs and Jews who are "very concerned about the situation there."
"People have been killed, families are cowering in fear in bomb shelters, and they need our prayers," Graham wrote. "As we are commanded in the Scriptures, let us 'pray for the peace of Jerusalem' (Psalm 122:6)."
Pastor Samuel Rodriguez, head of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, tweeted: “Praying for Israel. Praying for peace in the Middle East. #PrayInJesusname”
Greg Laurie, the pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in California, said that everyone needs to be "praying for Israel."
"They have been barraged by over 1000 rockets from Hamas, which is a terrorist organization backed by Iran," Laurie stated. "[T]he Bible tells us to 'Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem'.( Ps.122:6)”