ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 140

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IDF again denies killing mother and daughter at Gaza church, cites Hamas fire in area

After review, army says Hamas fired RPG from vicinity of church, soldiers fired back and hit Hamas ‘spotters’; Latin patriarchate claimed women were killed by IDF sniper fire

Nahida Khalil Anton (left), and her daughter, Samar (via X)
Nahida Khalil Anton (left), and her daughter, Samar (via X)

Having completed what it said was “an initial review” of an incident on Saturday in which an elderly Christian woman and her daughter were killed on the grounds of a Catholic church in Gaza City, the Israel Defense Forces on Tuesday published details of an exchange of fire with Hamas gunmen in the area and again indicated that Israeli forces were not responsible for the deaths of the women.

The Latin patriarch of Jerusalem claimed on Saturday evening that Nahida Khalil Anton and her daughter Samar were shot and killed by an Israeli sniper on the grounds of the Holy Family Parish. Israel denied that claim, stressing that it “does not target civilians, no matter their religion.” It said it had been contacted by church representatives about an incident in the Holy Family Parish, but “no reports of a hit on the church, nor civilians being injured or killed, were raised.”

On Tuesday, the IDF said its initial review found that “Hamas terrorists launched a rocket-propelled grenade at IDF troops from the vicinity of the church.” The troops identified three people in the vicinity who were operating as “spotters” for Hamas and “guiding their attacks,” and fired at the spotters, hitting them.

“While this incident occurred in the area where the two women were reportedly killed,” it said, “the reports received [of the two women killed] do not match the conclusion of our initial review, which found that the IDF troops were targeting spotters in enemy lookouts.”

The IDF said it was continuing its “examination of the incident.”

“The IDF takes claims of strikes on sensitive sites very seriously, especially churches that are the holy sites for the Christian faith,” it said. “The IDF directs its operations against the Hamas terrorist organization and not against civilians, regardless of their religious affiliation. The IDF takes many measures to mitigate harm to civilians in the Gaza Strip. These efforts stand in contrast to Hamas that does everything in its power to endanger civilians and exploits them, as well as religious sites, as human shields for their terrorist activities.”

Pope Francis on Sunday reacted to the alleged attack, in which he said “unarmed civilians” were targeted by shootings and bombings.

File: Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Church in the Holy land Pierbattista Pizzaballa, leads a mass to Gaza Strip Palestinian Christian worshipers in the Roman Catholic Holy Family Church during the start of the Christmas holiday, in Gaza City, on December 19, 2021. (Atia Mohammed/Flash90)

“I continue receiving very serious and sad news about Gaza,” the pope said at the end of the Angelus prayer. “A mother and her daughter… were killed and other people were wounded by the shooters.

“This has happened even within the parish complex of the Holy Family, where there are no terrorists, but families, children, people who are sick and have disabilities,” the pope added.

“Some are saying ‘this is terrorism and war,'” the pontiff said. “Yes, it is war, it is terrorism… let us pray to the Lord for peace,” he added.

Pope Francis addresses the crowd from the window of the apostolic palace overlooking St. Peter’s Square during the weekly Angelus prayer on December 17, 2023, in the Vatican. (Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

Saturday’s statement from the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem Pierbattista Pizzaballa said: “Around noon today… a sniper of the IDF murdered two Christian women inside the Holy Family Parish in Gaza.”

Christian families have been sheltering there since the Israel-Hamas war broke out, the patriarchate said.

“Nahida and her daughter Samar were shot and killed as they walked to the Sister’s Convent. One was killed as she tried to carry the other to safety,” it added.

Seven more people were wounded by gunfire as they tried to protect others, the statement said.

The patriarchate said no warning had been given before the shooting started, adding that they were “shot in cold blood.”

Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza was triggered by the group’s onslaught in Israel on October 7, when thousands of Hamas-led terrorists flooded into Israel via land, air and sea, massacring more than 1,200 people and seizing some 240 hostages of all ages — mostly civilians — under the cover of a deluge of thousands of rockets fired at Israeli towns and cities.

In response, Israel vowed to eliminate the terror group, and has been waging a wide-scale offensive in Gaza which the Hamas-run health ministry says has left more than 20,000 people dead. These figures cannot be independently verified, and are believed to include both civilians and Hamas members killed in Gaza, including as a consequence of terror groups’ own rocket misfires. The IDF says it has killed at least 7,000 Hamas operatives in Gaza.

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