COVID-19: Churches in U.S. call for end to Middle East sanctions

Churches and agencies are calling on the U.S. government “to extend compassion and help to those who are in need” at this time of global pandemic. Photo: LWF/ Shaban Mortaja (Juzoor Gaza)

Ecumenical coalition urges that sanctions in Iran, Syria and Gaza are lifted in response to COVID-19 crisis

(LWI) - In light of the growing crisis because of the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) pandemic, an ecumenical coalition of U.S. based Christian churches and agencies working in the Middle East has written to the United States President Donald Trump urging his government to lift sanctions on Iran and Syria, as well as to end its support for Israel’s blockade of Gaza.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), an LWF member church, is one of 14 signatories to the letter, sent on 25 March, which calls on the U.S. government “to extend compassion and help to those who are in need” at this time of global pandemic.

The letter, copied to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin, urges the government “to lift sanctions that negatively impact civilian populations” as well as other restrictions that “impair governments' abilities to respond to the health crisis.” This includes financial sanctions that impact the ability of countries to import urgent medical supplies and equipment, the signatories say.

Devastating impact in Iran and Syria

The letter goes on to detail the “devastating impact” of the COVID-19 outbreak in Iran where a shortage of medicines, medical supplies and equipment predates the current crisis. While recognizing that “some steps have already been taken,” the churches urge the U.S. government to lift its “sweeping” sanctions and allow the International Monetary Fund to grant Iran’s request for a loan.

In Syria, the letter notes that the potential impact of the virus is “staggering”, with an estimated 11 million people already in need of humanitarian assistance. Rather than moving forward with implementing additional sanctions, the churches say, “the U.S. should lift sanctions that prohibit the import and purchase of badly-needed medicines and medical supplies and assure banks that such transactions will not trigger a reprisal.”

End blockade in Gaza

Under the strict Israeli blockade of Gaza, imposed with U.S. support, the letter says conditions are already “unlivable” for residents, with population density, broken water and sanitation systems and a shortage of medical supplies leaving people “vulnerable to an uncontrolled COVID-19 outbreak that could also negatively impact Israel.”

The letter urges the U.S. to end its support for the blockade of Gaza and to immediately press Israel to ensure that medical supplies and technology are provided, as well as “ensuring patients needing treatment outside of Gaza are given the permits necessary for extended periods of treatment and that family members, especially parents accompanying children, are also granted permits to travel.”

The concerns contained in the letter echo a call to Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas from the U.N. Special Rapporteur for human rights in the occupied Palestinian Territory, urging them to ensure the right to health for all people during the current crisis.

Expressing particular concern for the situation in Gaza, Special Rapporteur Michael Lynk said significant movement restrictions on patients and health workers already severely compromise Palestinians’ access to healthcare services. In the context of COVID-19, where patients’ conditions can deteriorate rapidly, any delays getting to hospital can be fatal, he said.






The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, with about 4 million members in nearly 10,000 congregations across the United States, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. It has been a member of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) since 1988.