Israeli Airstrike Damages Oldest Church in Gaza Sheltering Christians, Muslims: A Greek Orthodox church compound in the Gaza Strip sheltering hundreds of Palestinians of multiple faiths was reportedly damaged by a fatal Israeli airstrike on Thursday.
The Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem announced that a building on the compound of the Greek Orthodox Church of Saint Porphyrios, the oldest church in Gaza, was damaged in the overnight Israeli airstrike.
“The Patriarchate emphasizes that 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 thirteen days, constitutes a war crime that cannot be ignored,” the Patriarchate of Jerusalem stressed in a statement.
Palestinian health officials claimed that at least 16 Palestinian Christians were among the 18 people killed in the blast, reports The Washington Post. At least 20 others were injured.
Approximately 500 Palestinian Christians and Muslims had reportedly been seeking refuge from airstrikes in the church.
The IDF (Israel Defense Forces) confirmed to AFP that a portion of the church had been damaged during an airstrike targeting Hamas military compounds but maintained that the church itself was not the intended target.
“As a result of the IDF strike, a wall of a church in the area was damaged. We are aware of reports on casualties. The incident is under review,” the Israeli military said, adding that they “can unequivocally state that the Church was not the target of the strike.”
Archbishop Alexios of Tiberias, who was at the site, said the strike “hit the offices and the entrance of the monastery,” according to The Orthodox Times.
“They were bombarded with a missile and the whole building collapsed. There were Christians inside, many of whom have been injured. They have to bring bulldozers, so we can see how many people are under the rubble,” the archbishop added.
Israel launched retaliatory airstrikes in Gaza in response to an Oct. 7 attack by Hamas terrorists in southern Israel that killed more than 1,400 people — including at least 30 Americans. Israel is also said to be preparing for a potential ground invasion into Gaza.
More than 3,000 have been killed and 12,500 injured in the airstrikes, according to Hamas-run government health officials.
The Orthodox Public Affairs Committee, founded in 2020 by a former Trump White House official to “provide public advocacy for the global Orthodox Christian Church,” condemned the destruction of the church and called for an end to “the senseless killing of innocent civilians, both Israeli and Palestinian.”
“[We] extend our heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims and the entire Greek Orthodox community affected by this tragedy,” OPAC wrote in a statement.
“OPAC firmly believes in the sanctity of sacred spaces and the importance of protecting religious sites as symbols of peace, unity, and spirituality. The bombing of a place of worship, of any faith, is an affront to the values we hold dear and signifies a grave violation of human rights.”
According to OPAC, the church has stood since the 12th century.
“The loss of innocent lives is an intolerable consequence of ongoing conflicts in the region,” the OPAC statement concludes. “It is imperative that all parties involved recognize the significance of preserving life and prioritize peaceful dialogue to bring an end to this mayhem.”
There are less than 1,000 Christians left in Gaza, a marked decline from the more than 7,000 who lived there before Hamas took over the region in 2007, according to local church officials.
The church is named for St. Porphyrios, who served as bishop of Gaza from A.D. 395 to 420. The present structure, which Crusaders built in the 1100s, was constructed on the former site of an earlier church that dates as far back as the fifth century.
St. Porphyrios also served as a place of refuge for Palestinian Muslims seeking refuge from Israeli bombardment in 2014, according to Reuters.
Originally published by Christian Post