Religion news in brief

Washington, USA - American Muslim, Christian and Jewish leaders say there is an urgent need for U.S. leadership to negotiate a lasting cease-fire in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

In a statement released Monday, the National Interreligious Leadership Initiative for Peace in the Middle East expressed support for President Bush's leadership in the region so far.

Now, the group says the U.S. and its partners should "press more urgently for meaningful, reciprocal, simultaneous steps by Israel and the Palestinian Authority to improve conditions on the ground and help restore people's hopes that a peace agreement is possible."

The steps that the group is advocating include having the Palestinian Authority block illegal arms shipments and disarm militias; a freeze on any expansion of Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories and reducing military checkpoints for Palestinians; and quietly urging Arab leaders to help form a new, unified Palestinian government that can govern both the West Bank and Gaza. Gaza is controlled by the Islamic militant Hamas, while the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah movement has a stronghold in the West Bank.

Among the more than 30 signers of the statement are Roman Catholic Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, former archbishop of Washington; Chicago Cardinal Francis George, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; Conservative Rabbi Elliot Dorff of American Jewish University in Los Angeles; Sayyid Syeed, national director of the Islamic Society of North America; and Imam Yahya Hendi, Georgetown University chaplain.