More than 140 church leaders, including heads of most major denominations, reaffirmed their opposition Tuesday to the Persian Gulf war and called for a cease-fire.

They also urged "pastoral support" for soldiers and their families.Declaring that the nation is in "a war that should have been avoided," a statement said "a great human tragedy of yet unknown proportions has begun to unfold."

"The words of the gospel cannot be reconciled with what is now happening in the gulf," the church leaders said. "It is on Jesus' call to be peacemakers that we are united and will take our stand."

They said that "already many people are suffering."

"It is for the sake of these - and many more who will follow that we opposed this war on moral grounds and remain opposed to it now," the statement said."On their behalf we call for a halt to the fighting - a cease-fire - and a fresh effort to find a diplomatic solution."

Most of the U.S. Protestant and Orthodox signers currently are attending the World Council of Churches assembly in Canberra, Australia. About 30 Roman Catholic leaders, including 16 bishops, also signed the 900-word statement.