IDF kills two women taking shelter at Gaza church, Catholic authorities say

JERUSALEM — Israeli forces killed two women who were taking shelter at a church in the Gaza Strip on Saturday afternoon, Catholic authorities said.

The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, an ecclesiastical office for the Latin Catholics in the region, in a statement identified the victims — a mother and daughter — by their first names only and said they were “shot in cold blood.”

A sniper from the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) shot the women at the Holy Family Parish in Gaza, where the majority of Christian families in Gaza have taken refuge during the war, according to the patriarchate’s statement.

“Nahida and her daughter Samar were shot and killed as they walked to the Sister’s Convent,” the patriarchate said, referring to a building in the parish complex. “One was killed as she tried to carry the other to safety. Seven more people were shot and wounded as they tried to protect others inside the church compound. No warning was given, no notification was provided. They were shot in cold blood inside the premises of the Parish, where there are no belligerents.”

The IDF did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and The Washington Post could not immediately verify the details of the patriarchate’s report.

Cellular and internet networks have been largely down across Gaza since Thursday evening, the latest in a series of near-total blackouts to hit the Palestinian territory. Gazans with eSIM cards, or with the Oredoo carrier in the north, have retained limited access.

The outages have made it difficult for those inside the church to be reached.

An aid worker in Gaza, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect his privacy as he was not authorized to speak by the organization, said one of his colleagues was hit by shrapnel in her legs during the attack.

A doctor in the church operated quickly on her to remove shrapnel from one leg, the aid worker said, but was unable to dislodge shrapnel from the second leg, which may have sustained a fracture.

The aid worker said he was initially able to get updates from another colleague, who has as an eSIM. But then the colleague’s phone died.

“I am wondering if the accusations will be ‘these were Catholic branch of Hamas!,’” he told The Post by WhatsApp message. “Not only the families, there are 50 kids with physical and mental disabilities that sisters are nursing.”

British lawmaker Layla Moran said her relatives are among the hundreds of civilians trapped in the church. Moran told the BBC that her family members are “days away from dying” without access to water or food.

“I’m now no longer sure they are going to survive until Christmas,” Moran told the BBC.

The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem said that in addition to the midday sniper attack, a rocket from an IDF tank hit the Convent of the Sisters of Mother Teresa, a mission that is home to more than 54 people with disabilities.

The strike destroyed fuel reserves and the generator supplying the building’s sole source of electricity. The explosion and fire resulting from the strikes also damaged the home at the mission, rendering it “uninhabitable,” and displacing the disabled residents, including those who need respirators to survive, the patriarchate said.

Saturday’s strike echoes an attack in October after an attack on the historic Greek Orthodox Church of St. Porphyrius, Gaza’s oldest active church. About two weeks into the war, hundreds of Palestinian civilians were sheltering in the church when Israeli forces launched a strike that killed 18 people and wounded 20 others.

The IDF said at the time that a strike targeting a Hamas control center “damaged the wall of a church in the area” and that the church was not a target.

Israel has faced growing criticism, including from President Biden, that its “indiscriminate bombing” is eroding support for its war in Gaza as the human toll climbs.

Bellware reported from Chicago.

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