Church leaders in Holy Land condemn ‘wanton attack’ in Gaza

Church leaders in Holy Land condemn ‘wanton attack’ in Gaza Destroyed buildings lie in ruin in central Gaza, as seen from Israel January 13, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, near the Israel-Gaza border. Photo: OSV News/Amir Cohen, Reuters)

After a disputed incident in which more than 100 Palestinians were killed while attempting to access humanitarian aid in Gaza, Church leaders in Jerusalem have condemned what they described as a “wanton attack” and called for a ceasefire.

In a March 1 statement, the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem pointed to the February 29 incident, saying that “in the aftermath of yesterday’s horrifying events and their cruel context, we, the patriarchs and heads of Churches in Jerusalem, condemn the wanton attack against innocent civilians”.

They called for both parties involved in the conflict “to reach an immediate and lengthy ceasefire that allows for the speedy disbursement of relief supplies throughout the Gaza Strip, and for the enactment of a negotiated release of those held as captives and prisoners”.

Their statement comes after at least 112 people in Gaza were killed and 760 injured on last Thursday while trying to get desperately needed humanitarian aid from trucks dispersing it. Accounts of what happened differ, with Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) claiming that Gaza residents surrounded the trucks and began looting the supplies, prompting soldiers to fire warning shots as the scene turned chaotic and people were trampled to death by the crowds.

The Palestinian Health Ministry, however, says Israeli forces opened fire onto the crowd, and that many of those who died and were injured suffered gunshot wounds. In their statement, the Church leaders in Jerusalem faulted Israel.

Some of the dead, they said, were “victimised after being either trampled by panicked crowds or hit by aid trucks fleeing the horrific scene”.

The Church leaders condemned remarks made by Israeli National Security Minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, a controversial right-wing politician accused of ethnic and religious discrimination, who called IDF soldiers “heroic” after Thursday’s incident and said they “acted excellently against a Gazan mob that tried to harm them”.

In their statement, the Church leaders in Jerusalem voiced solidarity and prayer for the Christian communities throughout Gaza, specifically the more than 800 people who have been sheltering at St Porphyrios Orthodox Church and Holy Name Catholic Church in Gaza City for five months.