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Palestinian Christians also bear brunt of Israel’s genocidal campaign in Gaza

By Ivan Kesic

Last week, amid the indiscriminate Israeli bombing campaign in the besieged Gaza Strip, the Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem announced that an airstrike targeted the complex of the Church of Saint Porphyrius, the oldest church in Gaza and the third oldest in the world.

The brutal attack left at least 18 people dead, including 10 from one family, as reported by the Palestinian health ministry. Several persons were declared missing, and dozens were wounded.

According to the Aid to the Church in Need, a Catholic aid organization for war refugees, among the victims included several Christian youngsters who were part of the Employment Generation Project for Christian youth, run by the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

The meeting hall, one of the four adjacent buildings of the church complex, was reduced to ashes, and one side of the 1,600-year-old Greek Orthodox church was also badly damaged.

The complex hosted hundreds of Christian and Muslim Palestinian citizens who were forcibly displaced from their homes following the Israeli regime’s evacuation orders.

The orders came amid the relentless bombing campaign that began on October 7 and has so far claimed the lives of over 7,500 Palestinians, including more than 3,000 children.

According to members of the Palestinian Christian community, about 100 people had been sheltering in the two-story building hit by the strike, with about 400 others scattered across the complex.

The building complex is located a few hundred meters from the Holy Family Catholic Church, where hundreds of other Palestinian Christians and Muslims have taken refuge, hiding from Israeli strikes.

Israeli regime initially denied that its military targeted the church complex, the way it refused to claim responsibility for the hospital bombing, but was eventually forced to admit that it targeted an alleged Hamas command unit for launching rockets and grenades.

Satellite photos and reports from the field showed that it was not a nearby building but a part of the complex, and statements about the presence of Hamas were denied by locals.

"Most of Gaza’s Christians have sought refuge in churches because they have nowhere else to go. We were surprised. We did not receive a warning to evacuate," a witness was quoted as saying by media.

In a strongly-worded statement, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate condemned the strike, stressing that "targeting churches and its affiliated institutions, in addition to the shelters they provide to protect innocent citizens, constitutes a war crime that cannot be ignored."

It further noted that innocent citizens targeted by the Israeli military were largely children and women who lost their homes as a result of the Israeli bombing of densely populated residential areas.

The World Council of Churches also strongly condemned the attack, terming it “unconscionable.”

"We condemn this unconscionable attack on a sacred compound and call upon the world community to enforce protections in Gaza for sanctuaries of refuge, including hospitals, schools, and houses of worship,” it said in a press statement.

Pope Francis, head of the Catholic Church, said he was saddened by the attacks on the Saint Porphyrius Church, as well as an Anglican Al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza several days earlier.

Al-Ahli Arab Hospital, founded in 1882, was managed by the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem.

Condemnations also came from the Iranian Christian community. Bishop Seboh Sarkisian, accompanied by Rabbi Ynuns Hamami Lalezar, expressed their anger against the Israeli regime's brutality.

On the other hand, condemnations by other Christian communities in the West were largely absent, as well as by the Western mass media that suppressed the savage crime.

The complex of the Church of Saint Porphyrius has been targeted before, including in July 2014, when its water tanks were destroyed and a neighboring home was damaged by Israeli tank shells.

The two remaining churches in Gaza have often been targeted by the Israeli military forces. In 2008 the Gaza Baptist Church sustained heavy damages in Israeli air attacks, after which seven of its leaders, including its pastor, was compelled to migrate from the Gaza Strip.

The Catholic Holy Family Church was also the target of Israeli attacks in 2014 and this year, and in 2021 the adjacent Rosary Sisters' school was damaged by an Israeli airstrike.

An estimated 1,100 Christians live among 2.3 million people in the Gaza Strip, and an additional 50,000 live in the occupied West Bank, notably in Bethlehem and East Jerusalem.

All Christians from the southern Levant, regardless of whether they are in the Gaza Strip, the occupied West Bank, other occupied territories or abroad, identify themselves as Palestinians.

Today, hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Christians live across the world, mostly in Latin America, as they were (along with other Palestinians) ethnically cleansed by the Zionist regime.

Palestinian communities report severe discrimination by Israel, including frequent physical attacks, destruction and theft of property, displacement, curfews, and military attacks.

Israel's destruction of the oldest Christian community continues to this day, with the tacit support of Western powers and the mainstream Western media.

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