The Archbishop of York yesterday started a week-long fast during which he will camp in a tent at York Minster to pray for peace and highlight the plight of people caught up in the Middle East conflict.

Dr John Sentamu, the former Bishop for Birmingham, has given up a planned seven-day family holiday in Salzburg, Austria, in favour of a week of sleeping rough and living on a liquid diet to raise awareness and lead prayers for the conflict between Israel and Lebanon.

He said his actions mirror those of countless numbers of people in the troubled zone who are having to sleep rough and without proper food.

To launch the vigil he publicly had his head shaved and was anointed with oil in front of his congregation at yesterday's service at the Minster with cathedral cleric Canon Glynn Webster using a pair of electric trimmers for the brief haircut carried out on the altar.

The archbishop is now camping at the Minster and leading hourly prayers with his fast ending at 10am next Sunday.

The hourly prayer sessions will be held during the Minster's opening hours and for the rest of the time he will sleep in a tent inside St John's Chapel.

He said while the UN and world leaders are at the forefront of peace-broking deals, common people have a vital role to play through prayer.

The archbishop is also urging people to give up a meal and donate the money to charities that are working in the crisis region.

Dr Sentamu said: "In the Middle East there are thousands of people sleeping in churches, bunkers, underground car parks and shelters in an attempt to escape from the bombs and rockets that are falling on both sides of the border.

"This act is a rallying call to people of all faiths and none, to encourage them to feel that there is something that can be done.

"The UN has a role, diplomacy has a role and our Government has a role to play in bringing this conflict to an end. But we as people also have a role to play in showing our common humanity with all those who are suffering.

"We have an opportunity to stand up and be counted with those in Israel, Lebanon and Palestine and all over the world who seek after peace.

"This is what this week will be about, people coming together for one purpose alone - to pray for peace in our troubled world and to pray especially for the Middle East.

"I will be inviting people from all over the country to pause for a prayer and light a candle for peace.

"I will lead every day, on the hour, every hour for seven days.

"Just like those sleeping on the floors of bunkers, car parks and churches, I will also spend the week camped out sleeping in the Minster. Many thousands of people have been denied access to food and water as a result of the fighting."