Ohio Churchman Among Delegates Seeking Peace In Mideast

By TERRY KINNEY, Associated Press Writer

CINCINNATI (AP) - An Ohio churchman active in a push for peace in the Middle East said Tuesday he remains convinced that religious leaders can help end the violence despite the latest wave of suicide bombings in the Holy Land.

"We're not naive about the fact that we could create peace on our own," said the Very Rev. James Diamond, dean of Christ Church Cathedral in Cincinnati. "But I think we are correct that we can still offer hope that there are people whose governments are widely separated, whose military is widely separated, but whose religious leaders are still in contact."

Diamond was among a group of Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders who met in Egypt in January and issued what became known as the Alexandria Declaration. The seven-point proposal included a pledge to establish a permanent committee of representatives of the three religions to work for peace in the Holy Land.

Diamond was invited into the effort, headed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, because he is president of the Community of the Cross of Nails in the United States, part of an international ministry of reconciliation that began in England during World War II.

Diamond and others met with Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat two weeks ago, and with Pope John Paul II the week before that. The meeting with Arafat took place at his headquarters, where he has been under virtual house arrest since this weekend.

"The buildings you're seeing now having holes blown in them are the ones we were in two weeks ago," Diamond said. "The weekend events show the escalation that is possible and how out of control the situation is. But it also shows how important it is for people to continue to talk ... and to pray for peace."

After meeting with Diamond and others, Pope John Paul II issued a statement supporting the peace initiative.

"We are all saddened by the daily instances of violence and death in Israel and the Palestinian Territories," the pope wrote. "Our mission as men and women of religion impels us to pray for peace, to proclaim peace and to do everything in our power to help bring an end to the bloodshed."

Diamond said the delegation got similar wishes from Arafat.

"He has given his blessing to the declaration, as has Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon," Diamond said. "Representatives of both are signers. He reiterated his support for what we are doing."

Since this weekend's violence, Israel has told Arafat to stay in his compound or leave for good.

But Diamond thinks Arafat can still be an influence for peace.

"Regardless of what else is going on, he has a strong symbolic power as being the head of the Palestinian Authority," Diamond said. "In Palestine, the line between religion and politics is not that great. It's a part of the world where faith and government are so closely linked."

On Tuesday, President Bush appealed to Arafat to order an end to the assaults on Israel and on settlers and soldiers on the West Bank.

"There will never be peace so long as there is terror, and all of us must fight terror," Bush said. "I'd like to see Chairman Arafat denounce the terrorist activities that are taking place, the constant attacks."

Diamond would like to see the United States more deeply involved.

"We have a great moral responsibility, being the only superpower," Diamond said. "Part of that power is to insist that the principal parties come to the table. The situation right now is intractable, and everybody is suffering."

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)