The Methodist Church has warned against launching air strikes on Syria in response to the chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime on Douma in eastern Ghouta.
A statement signed by the president and vice-president of the Methodist Conference, Rev Lorraine Mellor and Jill Baker, says: 'We continue to remember those killed or injured in Douma and their families in our prayers. The use of chemical weapons is deplorable, and it is essential that those responsible are identified and held accountable for their crimes. There is a role for the whole international community to play in bringing justice to this situation.'
However, it continues, 'air strikes on Syria risk further destabilising the situation in the country and escalating the conflict'.
The statement concludes: 'We pray that in this situation national leaders will demonstrate qualities of understanding, perception, creativity and commitment. We ask that any immediate response recognises that ultimately the conflict can only be brought to an end through negotiation with all parties.'
The attack on Douma on April 7 killed at least 70 people and is believed to have involved chlorine gas and a nerve agent, possiblly sarin. Russia has disputed this, with its foreign minister Sergei Lavrov claiming it was staged with the help of a foreign secret service.
Arguments have raged in Western government circles about how or whether to respond to the atrocity, itself only the latest in a series of chemical weapons attacks carried out with apparent impunity. The US, the UK and France say they are considering military retaliation, but large numbers of Russian troops and weaponry are present in Syria and there are fears that Russian casualties could escalate the situation.