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Orthodox Church compound in Gaza damaged in apparent airstrike

Rescuers search rubble at Orthodox Church in Gaza

DAWOOD NEMER | AFP

John Burger - published on 10/20/23

Meanwhile, Missionaries of Charity fear for the elderly and disabled under their care in war zone.

The Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem condemned an Israeli airstrike Thursday night that caused serious damage to a church compound in Gaza City and reportedly killed several people sheltering there.

Among the dead were a young couple and their baby. The mother was affiliated with the international Catholic charity Caritas.

The Israeli military said its fighter jets had hit a nearby Hamas command and control center that was used to carry out attacks against Israel, according to Reuters. The strike knocked down part of a wall in the compound of St. Porphyrius Church, it said. The military said the incident is under review. 

Israel has been advising residents to evacuate to the south of the Gaza Strip. Many people say they have nowhere to go and that no place in the strip is safe.

Gaza civil officials said between 16-18 people were killed in the church compound. Dozens of Palestinian families, both Christian and Muslim, were taking shelter in various parts of the compound, as Israel continues to bomb parts of Gaza ahead of an expected ground invasion in response to Hamas’ attack on Israel now nearly two weeks ago, on October 7. 

Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) said that the parish church, school and adjacent church buildings had been sheltering up to 1,000 people, including the parents of a CNEWA staff member and on-the-ground partners, many of whom are parishioners.

The Church of St. Porphyrios is a parish of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem and is among the most historic in the region, its foundations dating to the fifth century, CNEWA said.

In a statement, the Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem said, “Targeting churches and their institutions, along with the shelters they provide to protect innocent citizens, especially children and women who have lost their homes due to Israeli airstrikes on residential areas over the past 13 days, constitutes a war crime that cannot be ignored.”

Staying put

The United Nations humanitarian affairs office said that more than 140,000 homes, a number that represents nearly a third of all homes in Gaza, have been damaged, with nearly 13,000 completely destroyed, Reuters reported.

Meanwhile, it is still unclear what caused a deadly explosion at the Anglican-run hospital in Gaza, killing patients and people who had been sheltering there. Israel says its military was not responsible, and that the tragedy was likely the result of a misfire of a Palestinian militant rocket.

Nuns worried for those in their care

Some Missionaries of Charity nuns in the Holy Land are concerned that a residence they run in Gaza for disabled and elderly people could suffer a similar fate, according to AsiaNews. The residence is next to the Latin Catholic Church of the Holy Family in Gaza.

“We are not worried about ourselves but for disabled children and elderly people bedridden with bedsores. And also for the 600 people who took refuge in our convent after losing their homes in recent days due to the bombings,” the nuns, who are unnamed in the report, told Franciscan Fr. Francis Xavier, Indian Commissioner of the Holy Land. “Where will they go now?”

For its part, the Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem said it remains committed to “fulfilling its religious and moral duty in providing assistance, support, and refuge to those in need, amidst continuous Israeli demands to evacuate these institutions of civilians and the pressures exerted on the churches in this regard.” It said it will not abandon its “religious and humanitarian duty, rooted in its Christian values, to provide all that is necessary in times of war and peace alike.”

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Eastern ChristianIsraelPalestine
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