Israeli Forces Attack Church Compound In Gaza Just Days Before Christmas

The Israeli military is accused of attacking a church compound in Gaza just one week before Christmas, killing two Christian women and displacing dozens of disabled Palestinians.On Saturday, an Israeli sniper “shot in cold blood” mother Nahida Anton and daughter Samar Anton while they were walking to the Sister’s Convent inside the Holy Family Parish

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The Israeli military is accused of attacking a church compound in Gaza just one week before Christmas, killing two Christian women and displacing dozens of disabled Palestinians.

On Saturday, an Israeli sniper “shot in cold blood” mother Nahida Anton and daughter Samar Anton while they were walking to the Sister’s Convent inside the Holy Family Parish in Gaza, according to a statement from the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

“No warning was given, no notification was provided,” the statement said, adding that there are “no belligerents” at the compound. Seven people were wounded in the attack as they tried to protect others in the compound. During attacks the night before, heavy bombing resulted in three additional people wounded inside the church, as well as the compound’s solar panels and water tanks destroyed.

Many Christian families in Gaza have been taking refuge inside the church compound since Israel began its heavy bombardment on the Palestinian enclave. Since Oct. 7, Israel’s destruction of Gaza has led to more than 18,700 Palestinians dead and thousands more buried under rubble, the Gaza Health Ministry said Thursday before the territory experienced a communications blackout that has since been partially restored.

Hours before the sniper attack, the patriarchate said that rockets fired from an Israeli tank hit the Convent of the Sisters of Mother Theresa, which is part of the church compound and home to 54 disabled people. The first rocket destroyed the building’s fuel sources and generator ― the convent’s only source of electricity ― and caused an explosion and massive fire that damaged the house. Two subsequent rockets on the convent rendered the home uninhabitable, according to the patriarchate.

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

Layla Moran, a member of British Parliament, said that she has several family members sheltering inside the same church compound. On Saturday, the lawmaker said that military forces had taken over a building opposite to the church and that “there are snipers at every window pointing to the church.”

Pope Francis, who has repeatedly spoken out against the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, expressed concern on Sunday about Israel’s church attacks, which he described as “terrorism.”

“I continue to receive very grave and painful news from Gaza,” he said during 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.”

Pope Francis delivers his blessing during the Angelus noon prayer from the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter's Square, at the Vatican on Sunday. The pope spoke out during his blessing about the Israeli military's attack on Saturday against a church compound in Gaza, killing two women and displacing dozens of disabled people.
Pope Francis delivers his blessing during the Angelus noon prayer from the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter’s Square, at the Vatican on Sunday. The pope spoke out during his blessing about the Israeli military’s attack on Saturday against a church compound in Gaza, killing two women and displacing dozens of disabled people.

Alessandra Tarantino via Associated Press

The Israeli Defense Force told HuffPost that it is conducting a “thorough review” of the attack, claiming without evidence that soldiers were targeting a Hamas-related “threat that they identified in the area of the church.”

“The IDF takes claims regarding harm to sensitive sites with the utmost seriousness ― especially churches ― considering that Christian communities are a minority group in the Middle East,” the IDF said, maintaining its stance that soldiers only target terrorists and not civilians, despite the massive civilian death toll.

The IDF also said it received a letter on Saturday from the patriarchate describing the attack on the Holy Family Parish, but claimed that church representatives did not raise such concerns during a conversation hours earlier.

“Together in prayer with the whole Christian community, we express our closeness and condolences to the families affected by this senseless tragedy,” the patriarchate said. “At the same time, we cannot but express that we are at a loss to comprehend how such an attack could be carried out, even more so as the whole Church prepares for Christmas.”

The region is home to some of the world’s oldest Christian communities, with the Palestinian Christian population in Gaza dating back to the first century. Palestinian cities like Bethlehem, Ramallah and Nazareth hold annual Christmas parades and celebrate the holiday in churches across the area.

Last month, Bethlehem announced that it will be canceling the city’s Christmas festivities in “mourning and in honor” of the Palestinians who have been killed by the Israeli military.

“Christmas celebrations are canceled this year, for it’s impossible to celebrate Christmas when our people in Gaza are going through a genocide,” Munther Ishaq, a pastor for Bethlehem’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, told Al Jazeera.

This year, Ishaq’s church set up its nativity scene depicting baby Jesus, who was born in Bethlehem, surrounded by rubble and wrapped in a Palestinian scarf called a keffiyeh.

An installation of a scene of the Nativity of Christ with a figure symbolizing baby Jesus lying amid the rubble, in reference to Gaza, inside the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the West Bank town of Bethlehem on Dec. 1src. World-famous Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem have been put on hold due to the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.
An installation of a scene of the Nativity of Christ with a figure symbolizing baby Jesus lying amid the rubble, in reference to Gaza, inside the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the West Bank town of Bethlehem on Dec. 10. World-famous Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem have been put on hold due to the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.

Mahmoud Illean via Associated Press

“We wanted to send a message to the world, a message that while the whole world is celebrating Christmas in festive ways, here in Bethlehem ― the birthplace of Jesus, where Christmas originated from ― this is what Christmas looks like to us,” Ishaq said of the display.

Since Oct. 7, Israel has bombed several churches in Gaza, attacking Palestinians who are seeking refuge in places of worship. Notably, Israeli forces killed 18 people in an attack on the Church of Saint Porphyrius, one of the oldest churches in the world. The bombardment has led to fears that Israel’s attacks could lead to the extinction of Gaza’s Palestinian Christian community.

“Christmas is the solidarity of God with those who are oppressed, with those who are suffering,” the pastor said. “And if Jesus is to be born again, this time, this year, he will be born in Gaza under the rubble in solidarity with the people of Gaza.”

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