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OSV NewsJuly 10, 2024
Palestinians inspect the Holy Family School in Gaza City in the Gaza Strip July 7, 2024, which shelters displaced people, after it was hit in an Israeli airstrike amid the Israel-Hamas conflict. (OSV News photo/Ayman Al Hassi, Reuters)

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (OSV News) -- The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem issued a strong condemnation after the Israeli military targeted a Catholic school in Gaza that killed four people, including a senior Hamas official.

In a statement published July 7, the patriarchate said it was monitoring reports of a strike on Holy Family School, which “has, since the beginning of the war, been a place of refuge for hundreds of civilians.”

“The Latin Patriarchate condemns, in the strongest terms, the targeting of civilians or any belligerent actions that fall short of ensuring that civilians remain outside the combat scene,” the statement read.

The patriarchate called for a cease-fire agreement “that would put an immediate end to the horrifying bloodbath and humanitarian catastrophe in the region.”

According to multiple news reports, including by The Associated Press, Israeli airstrikes took place overnight July 6-7 in Gaza, killing 13 Palestinians.

The strike against Holy Family School, which was operating as a shelter, claimed the lives of four people, including Ihab al-Ghussein, Hamas’ undersecretary of labor. In a statement, Hamas mourned the death of al-Ghussein, whose wife and daughter were killed in strikes in the early days of the war, AP reported.

Israeli military officials justified the attack on the school, arguing that the bombing struck a Hamas military building and a weapons-making facility “in the area of a school building.”

Nevertheless, this is the second time in less than 24 hours that Israeli forces have targeted a school, once again prompting growing concern and outrage against the country’s military tactics in its alleged efforts to wipe out Hamas.

The Reuters news agency reported July 6 that the Israeli Defense Force conducted an airstrike on a school in Al-Nuseirat, located in central Gaza, that left 16 dead and more than 50 wounded.

The school, which was run by the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees, or UNRWA, was also being used as a shelter by civilians fleeing Israeli military strikes. One eyewitness told Reuters he saw “the bodies of children, in pieces” in a playground area.

The Israeli Defense Force claimed it was targeting Hamas gunmen hiding out in the area. However, Hamas denied that its fighters were there.

Nevertheless, UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini condemned the strike and said the school “was home to nearly 2,000 internally displaced” persons in the area.

“Another day. Another month. Another school hit,” Lazzarini posted July 7 on his X account.

Denouncing accusations by Israel that UNRWA facilities were being “used by Palestinian armed groups,” Lazzarini said he has repeatedly called for “independent investigations to ascertain the facts and identify those responsible for attacks on UN premises or their misuse.”

“The longer this war goes on, the deeper the rift will become, and the more suffering people will endure,” he wrote. “Enough is enough.”

The Latin Patriarchate said in its July 7 statement that they “continue to pray for the Lord’s mercy.”

In a statement released July 10, the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace expressed his solidarity with the patriarchate in condemning the targeting of civilians and expressed grave concern over news of the attack on the Catholic school in Gaza, “a place of refuge for hundreds of civilians.”

“I urge in strongest terms that civilians remain outside the sphere of combat, while also praying for peace and an immediate end to hostilities,” said Bishop A. Elias Zaidan of the St. Louis-based Maronite Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon.

Meanwhile, marking nine months since the war in Gaza started Oct. 7, Israeli protesters blocked highways across the country on July 7, calling on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to step down and pushing for a cease-fire to bring back scores of hostages still held by Hamas, AP reported.

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