IDF refutes claim it targeted sole Catholic church in Gaza after 2 women said killed

Army says review found no indication of parish being hit or civilians harmed, after patriarchate says mother and daughter were killed by IDF sniper fire; pope condemns ‘terrorism’

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

The Israel Defense Forces refuted on Sunday a claim that it had targeted a Catholic parish in the Gaza Strip, after the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem asserted that an elderly Christian woman, Nahida Khalil Anton, and her daughter, Samar, had been shot and killed by an Israeli sniper on the grounds of the Holy Family Parish on Saturday.

Stressing that the IDF “does not target civilians, no matter their religion,” the army told AFP that it had on Saturday 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.”

“A review of the IDF’s operational findings support this,” it added. “The IDF 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.”

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

“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.”

The Israeli army said on Sunday that its operational findings rebut the claims.

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 waged a wide-scale offensive in Gaza which the Hamas-run health ministry says has left more than 18,800 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.

In its statement, the patriarchate also said three projectiles fired by an IDF tank had struck the Convent of the Sisters of Mother Theresa, destroying its generator and fuel supplies, and rendering a building housing over 50 disabled people uninhabitable.

“The 54 disabled persons are currently displaced and without access to the respirators that some of them need to survive,” it added.

According to the Vatican press agency, the strikes wounded three people.

“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,” the patriarchate said.

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