Congressional staff urged Israel against attacking Gaza churches: report

Congressional staff urged Israel against attacking Gaza churches: report
US congressional staff attempted to alert Israel on two holy sites to avoid targeting them- and they were still attacked -
3 min read
23 December, 2023
Palestinian Christians attend Sunday Mass celebrated in Gaza City's Holy Family church prior to the conflict [Getty]

US Christian congressional staff members reportedly warned Israel against attacking religious sites in Gaza that were deemed safe zones for civilians, however the sites were eventually targeted by Israeli bombardment. 

According to a series of emails obtained by US news site Politico, Gaza-based aid group Catholic Relief Services had repeatedly sent locations to Israel to instruct them to avoid attacking Christian facilities where Palestinian civilians sought refuge. 

The emails, dated between October 14 to October 26, show Catholic Relief Services sending the coordinates of several buildings to staff members of the US Senate, who had forwarded them to Israeli forces.  

Despite this, the Israelis said that they could not “guarantee” the safety of civilians who were staying inside, according to the report. 

Israeli forces have yet to respond to Politico’s report. 

Meanwhile, anonymous senate and congressional staff told the news outlet that they hope to continue attempts to protect Gaza’s civilians “without fear of retribution”. 

A mother and daughter sheltering at the Holy Family Church were killed by Israeli sniper fire, and the Convent of the Missionaries of Charity was shelled by Israeli military tanks. 

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The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem previously reported both incidents that were dated 16 December in an official statement

The patriarchate said that the shootings at Holy Family Church, Gaza’s only Catholic church, led to the killings of Nahida Khalil Anton and daughter Samar while walking to the Sister’s Convent building in the complex.  

The statement also said that seven were killed and injured while they attempted to protect others in the church. 

“No warning was given, no notification was provided,” the patriarchate said. “They were shot in cold blood inside the premises of the parish, where there are no belligerents.” 

According to the patriarchate, the Missionaries of Charity located in a section of the church’s compound and housing 54 individuals with disabilities was struck by fire from an Israeli tank.  

This attack led to a fire that demolished the building’s generator, resulting in several residents being unable to use their respirators. 

Pope Francis deplored the deaths, which he said happened in a church complex "where there are no terrorists but families, children, people who are sick and have disabilities". 

Israeli forces said they had "no reports of a hit on the church", stressing the army "does not target civilians, no matter their religion". The Israeli army has destroyed several religious sites in Gaza, and in recent days has been accused of carrying out summary executions of civilians.

This year, church leaders in Jerusalem and the city council of Bethlehem – home to the Church of the Nativity where Christians believe Jesus was born – decided to tone down Christmas celebrations in solidarity with Gaza. 

In a Christmas message, the patriarchs and heads of churches in Jerusalem lamented that "hope seems distant and beyond" reach for Gazans caught up in 11 weeks of deadly violence.