GAZA (Reuters) – A Greek Orthodox church in the Gaza Strip that was sheltering hundreds of displaced Palestinians was hit by an Israeli air strike overnight, and Palestinian health officials said 16 people were killed, the Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem said.
There was no news from the church about the number of deaths.
The Israeli army said that part of the church was damaged in a strike on a militant command center and that it was reviewing the incident.
Palestinian officials said that at least 500 Muslims and Christians took refuge in the Greek Orthodox Church of St. Porphyrios to escape the Israeli bombing.
The Orthodox Church said in a statement: “The Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem expresses its strong condemnation of the Israeli air strike that targeted its church complex in Gaza City.”
The Hamas-run government’s Ministry of Health said in a statement that 16 Palestinian Christians were killed in the incident.
A video from the scene in the church compound showed a wounded boy being carried from under the rubble in the dark of the night. A civil defense worker said that two people on the upper floors survived. The worker said that those on the lower floors were killed and were still under the rubble.
Gaza has a population of 2.3 million, and includes an estimated 1,000 Christians, most of whom are Greek Orthodox.
The Israeli army said that its fighter jets bombed a nearby command and control center that was being used to carry out attacks against Israel.
“As a result of the IDF strike, a church wall in the area was damaged. We are aware of reports of casualties. The incident is under review,” the statement read.
He added, “The Israel Defense Forces can unequivocally declare that the church was not the target of the strike.”
Eyewitnesses said that the damage inside the church was extensive.
He added, “This indicates that the targets of the Israeli occupation are defenseless people, children, women and the elderly.”
The Palestinian Council of Churches, appointed by President Mahmoud Abbas, said in a statement.
Israel has bombed the densely populated Gaza Strip, flattening buildings and destroying infrastructure since Hamas attacked southern Israel on October 7, killing 1,400 people.
Since then, more than 4,100 people have been killed in Gaza by Israeli strikes, and more than a million people have been displaced, according to Palestinian health officials. Civilians say their situation is desperate due to lack of food, water, fuel and medical supplies.
(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Editing by Michael Georgie, Crispian Palmer and Angus MacSwan)
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