The call came in an open letter posted on Friday on the Geneva-based World Council of Churches (WCC)'s website from its international affairs commission expressing alarm at what it called Israeli actions that would pre-determine the status of the city under any peace accord.

These actions, the letter said, threatened the achievement of a just peace between Israel and the Palestinians "by pre-empting negotiations on the final status of Jerusalem within the framework of international law".

Unilateral plans

While world attention was focused on the Israeli plans to withdraw from Gaza, the letter said, the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon "has intensified unilateral programmes to consolidate control over Jerusalem and other occupied territory".

These included construction of a wall, which Israel calls a protection barrier, cutting off the whole of eastern Jerusalem from the West Bank, and effectively forcing Palestinians out of the city by threats and a new property law.

The WCC, which links 347 Christian churches in more than 120 countries, "calls for an open and inclusive Jerusalem, a city of shared sovereignty and citizenship, a city of two peoples and three faiths, of Christians, Muslims and Jews," the letter said.

"Now is the time to cease actions that pre-empt peace in
Jerusalem and to begin negotiation of Jerusalem's final status within the framework of international law," it
said.