13 December 2023, The Tablet

Palestinians ‘full of heartache’ as conflict deepens

The Pope pleaded for an immediate ceasefire and the release of all hostages: “Please, no to weapons, yes to peace.”

Palestinians ‘full of heartache’ as conflict deepens

Palestinians in the Maghazi camp in the central Gaza Strip after an IDF airstrike on 7 December.
ZUMA Press Inc / Alamy

The Catholic parish in Gaza sustained further damage from airstrikes as Israeli forces intensified operations after the collapse a ceasefire.

The Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem reports that the Holy Family Parish complex in Zeitoun had been hit by shrapnel, while Israel Defence Force (IDF) airstrikes targeting buildings nearby have destroyed church water tanks and solar panels. 

Roughly 600 people remain in the complex, which includes the church, parish facilities, school buildings, three convents, and care homes.  The parish said it has run out of fuel and is running out of flour to bake bread on site, with nobody able to safely exit or approach the complex for supplies.  It continues to offer the sacraments.

A spokesperson for the parish said it was “salt to injury” to learn that the US had vetoed a United Nations resolution calling for a humanitarian ceasefire, adding: “What is the world waiting for? Please keep all the people of Gaza in your prayers.”

On Wednesday Pope Francis again expressed his “worry and pain” at “so much pain and suffering” in the Holy Land during his weekly general audience, calling for “an immediate humanitarian ceasefire”.

“I encourage all parties involved to resume negotiations and call on everyone to make an urgent commitment to get humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza,” he said.

“Let all hostages, who had seen hope in the truce a few days ago, be freed immediately, so that this great suffering for Israelis and Palestinians might come to an end.”

He concluded: “Please, no to weapons, yes to peace.”

The UN Secretary-General António Guterres reiterated his call for a sustained ceasefire in Gaza and the unconditional and immediate release of all the hostages held by Hamas since its terror attack on 7 October.

However, negotiations had stalled as Hamas threatened to murder its 135 remaining hostages while IDF troops sustained casualties as they moved deeper into Gaza, with more than 100 reported killed in operations.  The Hamas-run health ministry reported that more than 18,000 Palestinians have died in Gaza.

“Palestinians are terrified, desperate, and full of heartache, whether in Jerusalem, the West Bank, or Gaza,” said the writer Layal Hazboun, the daughter of the director of the Pontifical Mission in Jerusalem.

Hospitals reported concerns for their ability to operate, with the Al-Shifa Hospital, the largest in Gaza City, “besieged and bombed” while dozens of its staff – including the director Mohammed Abu Salmiya – detained by the IDF. 

The Holy Family Hospital in Bethlehem, 45 miles from Gaza, said that checkpoints set up in the West Bank since 7 October had delayed its medical supplies.

The UN has also voiced concerns about the escalation of violence in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem, with 3,000 Palestinians arrested and 266 killed in Israeli security operations.  Detainees include Anas Abu Srour, the director of a youth centre who worked with Pax Christi.  He has now been sentenced to six months “administrative detention”.

Observers have expressed fear for ancient monuments in Gaza, as military operations threatened cultural heritage from the region’s Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman history.

Last Friday the IDF bombed the medieval Omari Mosque, claiming it was used by Hamas. More than 100 heritage landmarks have been hit, including the Orthodox Church of Saint Porphyrios, thought to be the third oldest church in the world, where 18 people were killed.

Airstrikes have also devastated a 2,000-year-old Roman cemetery in northern Gaza, excavated only last year, and the Rafah Museum in the south.

Some have noted the sad resonance of Gaza’s place in the history of medicine: gauze, the thinly woven cotton fabric for dressing wounds, is believed to have originated in the region and takes its name from it.

Last Sunday, Pax Christi International held a webinar for the presentation of its International Peace Award 2023 to the Parents’ Circle, a group of bereaved Palestinian and Israeli parents who work for reconciliation and peace.

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