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Michael J. O’LoughlinDecember 17, 2023
hamas-israel-hostageThe body of Samer Fouad al-Talalka, a member of Israel's Bedouin Arab minority taken hostage by Hamas who was mistakenly killed by the Israeli military, is laid in the grave during his funeral in Hura village in southern Israel Dec 16, 2023. (OSV News photo/Clodagh Kilcoyne, Reuters)

The head of the U.S. bishops conference has condemned the killing of two Christian women who had been seeking shelter inside Gaza’s only Catholic church. Local church officials say their deaths came at the hands of a sniper with the Israeli Defense Forces.

“At this holy time of Advent in anticipation of the birth of the Prince of Peace, it is with great sadness and horror that we continue to witness the death and destruction of innocent people in the land of Our Lord’s birth,” Archbishop Timothy Broglio, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in a statement. “Such violence must not continue.”

Yesterday, the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem released a statement saying that two Christian women, Nahida Khalil Anton and her daughter, Samar, who had been seeking refuge inside Gaza’s Holy Family Parish, were “murdered” by a sniper with the Israeli Defense Forces and seven others were injured.

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

About 1,000 Christians live in Gaza, including 135 Catholics.

According to the statement, the women were walking to the Convent of the Sisters of Mother Theresa, home to 54 people with disabilities. Following three rocket attacks, which the statement said came from the I.D.F., those individuals are now displaced and unable to access critical medical care. The attack also destroyed solar panels, generators and water tanks, according to the statement. The parish has been providing shelter to a majority of Christian families in Gaza since the start of the war in October, the statement said.

Vatican News said in a report published Dec. 16, “The ongoing attack was reportedly justified by Israelis who claimed the presence of a rocket launcher in the parish.”

The statement from the Latin Patriarchate offered prayers to those affected by the attack, which it called “a senseless tragedy.”

The statement continued, “At the same time, we cannot but express that we are at a loss to comprehend how such an attack could be carried out, even more so as the whole church prepares for Christmas.”

“At the same time, we cannot but express that we are at a loss to comprehend how such an attack could be carried out, even more so as the whole church prepares for Christmas.”

A statement from the I.D.F. on Saturday said that it is “conducting a thorough review of the incident” and said that it “takes claims regarding harm to sensitive sites with the utmost seriousness—especially churches—considering that Christian communities are a minority group in the Middle East.”

“The IDF only targets terrorists and terror infrastructure and does not target civilians, no matter their religion,” the statement reads. “The IDF takes vast measures to avoid harm to uninvolved civilians, while fighting a terrorist organization which does everything to put civilians at risk—including by using civilians and holy sites as human shields for its terror activities.”

Citing the killing of the two women, plus the accidental shooting deaths of three Israeli hostages by I.D.F. soldiers, Archbishop Broglio called for “an immediate cessation of all hostilities, the release of hostages, and for earnest negotiations towards a peaceful resolution of this conflict.”

The archbishop, who also heads the archdiocese that serves U.S. military forces and their families, continued, “We resolutely join our voices with the Holy Father, Pope Francis, reminding all parties in this conflict, that war is never the answer but always a defeat. We plead, ‘peace, please peace!’”

Pope Francis referenced the killing of the two women in his address on Sunday, calling for an end to the war and describing some of the actions as “terrorism.”

 

“I continue to receive very grave and painful news from Gaza,” the pope said. “Unarmed civilians are the objects of bombings and shootings. And this happened even inside the Holy Family parish complex, where there are no terrorists, but families, children, people who are sick or disabled, nuns.”

The pope, who has been critical of Israel’s response to the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks carried out by Hamas, in which more than 1,200 Israelis were murdered, repeated his assertion that the ongoing conflict in Gaza is “terrorism.”

“Some would say, ‘It is war. It is terrorism.’ Yes, it is war. It is terrorism,” he said.

Some Jewish groups have condemned the pope’s characterization of the Israeli operation inside Gaza.

This story has been updated. 

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