Wednesday, July 24, 2024
HomenewsIsraeli forces kill two Christian women in ‘cold blood’ inside Gaza church

Israeli forces kill two Christian women in ‘cold blood’ inside Gaza church

Two Christian women – an elderly mother and her daughter – were shot dead by an Israeli soldier on the grounds of a Catholic church in Gaza City, the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem has said.

“Around noon [10:00 GMT] today … a sniper” of the Israeli army “murdered two Christian women inside the Holy Family Parish in Gaza” where Christian families have been sheltering since the Israel-Hamas war broke out, the patriarchate said in a statement on Saturday.

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“Nahida and her daughter Samar were shot and killed as they walked to the Sister’s Convent. One was killed as she tried to carry the other to safety,” it said.

The patriarchate highlighted that no warning was given before the shooting started and added that “they were shot in cold blood inside the premises of the Parish, where there are no belligerents.”

Seven more people were also wounded by gunfire as they tried to protect others, the statement said.

“This is a targeted death campaign during the Christmas season on the world’s oldest Christian community,” Hammam Farah, Nahida and Samar’s family member, said in a statement on X.

Reporting from Rafah in southern Gaza, Al Jazeera’s Hani Mahmoud said the church, which was accommodating Christians in Gaza, has been a target of direct Israeli bombardment over the past few days.

“Major parts of it have been destroyed. Snipers are shooting at every moving object in the yard,” he added.

In its statement, the patriarchate said three projectiles fired by an Israeli tank had also struck a convent of the Sisters of Mother Teresa charity, destroying its generator and fuel supplies, and rendering a building housing 54 disabled people uninhabitable.

“The 54 disabled persons are currently displaced and without access to the respirators that some of them need to survive,” it added.

According to the Vatican press agency, the strikes wounded three people.

“The 800 remaining Christians in Gaza are on the verge of extinction. They’ve made life very difficult for this community,” Mahmoud said.

Pope deplores killings

Pope Francis on Sunday deplored the killings, suggesting Israel was using “terrorism” tactics in Gaza.

“I continue to receive very grave and painful news from Gaza,” Francis said at his weekly blessing.

“Unarmed civilians are the objects of bombings and shootings. And this happened even inside the Holy Family parish complex, where there are no terrorists, but families, children, people who are sick or disabled, nuns.”

Francis said the two women were killed by “snipers” and also referred to the Patriarchate’s statement that a convent of nuns of the order founded by Mother Teresa was damaged by Israeli tank fire.

“Some would say ‘It is war. It is terrorism.’ Yes, it is war. It is terrorism,” he said.

It was the second time in less than a month that the pope used the word “terrorism” while speaking of events in Gaza.

On November 22, after meeting separately with Israeli relatives of hostages held by Hamas and Palestinians with family in Gaza, he said: “This is what wars do. But here we have gone beyond wars. This is not war. This is terrorism.”

Who are the Christians of Gaza?

Gaza’s Christians are one of the oldest communities in the Middle East, dating back to the first century.

However, the number of Christians in Gaza has dwindled in recent years. Today there are only approximately 1,000 left, a sharp drop from the 3,000 registered in 2007, when Hamas assumed complete control over the enclave.

According to Kamel Ayyad, a spokesperson for the Church of Saint Porphyrius, which was recently bombed by Israel, the majority of the population is from Gaza itself.

The rest arrived here after the creation of the state of Israel, which displaced about 700,000 Palestinians – an event they refer to as the Nakba, or “catastrophe”.

The Israeli blockade of Gaza following Hamas’s rise to power in 2007 accelerated the flight of Christians from the poverty-stricken enclave.

“It’s become very difficult for people to live here,” said Ayyad. “Many of the Christians left for the West Bank, for America, Canada or the Arab world, seeking better education and health.”

While most of Gaza’s Christians belong to the Greek Orthodox faith, smaller numbers worship at the Catholic Holy Family Church and the Gaza Baptist Church.

‘Living under siege’

After Saturday’s church attack, Italy’s top diplomat Antonio Tajani issued a “heartfelt appeal to the Israeli government and army to protect Christian places of worship”.

“That is not where the Hamas terrorists are hiding,” he said on X.

Under the recent Israeli bombardments, Christians and Muslims alike sought refuge at several churches in Gaza like Saint Porphyrius.

But after this church was bombed, they all moved to the nearby Holy Family Church, located 400 metres (1,300 feet) away, which has also been bombed now.

Israel has said it is looking into what happened at the Holy Family church on Saturday.

But living under siege, Christians in Gaza attest to a spirit of solidarity that has united faiths in their struggle for survival and their dream of freedom.

“We are all Palestinians. We live in the same city, with the same suffering,” said Ayyad.

“We are all under siege and are all the same.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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