A “large number” of displaced people sheltering at a church compound in Gaza have been killed in an Israeli air attack, the Palestinian interior ministry says.
At least 18 displaced Palestinians sheltering at the Greek Orthodox Saint Porphyrius Church in Gaza City were killed Thursday night, the Palestinian health ministry said on Friday.
Built in about 1150, the church is the oldest still in use in Gaza. Located in an historic neighborhood of Gaza City, it offered sanctuary to people of various faiths over generations.
Many Christian and Muslim Gaza residents had taken refuge at the 12th-century place of worship when it was attacked.
The Israeli military claimed that its warplanes targeted a command and control centre involved in launching rockets and mortars towards Israel, but as a result of the strike, a wall of a church in the area was damaged.
“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,” the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of al-Quds said.
Palestinians Christians and Muslims in Gaza have fled to churches and church-run institutions in recent days, including Saint Porphyrius, to seek shelter from Israel’s bombing campaign.
The Greek Orthodox church is thought to be the third oldest church in the world. A church was first built on the site in 425 CE, though the current building was constructed in the 12th century.
Ramzi Khoury, head of the Higher Committee for Church Affairs in Palestine, said the bombing indicated Israel’s “intentions to annihilate the Palestinian people”.
“Targeting places of worship constitutes a war crime, and international law makes it clear that houses of worship may under no circumstances be subjected to attacks,” he said in a statement.
On Tuesday, an Israeli airstrike on al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza killed nearly 500 Palestinians, triggering global outrage at the slaughter of people, many of whom were taking shelter from nearly two weeks of ruthless Israeli bombing of the besieged enclave.