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Restored 5th-century Byzantine church reopens in Gaza

Mosaics depicting animals, hunting scenes, palm trees adorn floor; Hamas says project shows it’s ’embracing its Christian brothers’

A boy looks at the remnants of a Byzantine church during the inauguration of Mukheitim archaeological site in Jabalia in the northern Gaza Strip on January 24, 2022. (Mahmud HAMS / AFP)
A boy looks at the remnants of a Byzantine church during the inauguration of Mukheitim archaeological site in Jabalia in the northern Gaza Strip on January 24, 2022. (Mahmud HAMS / AFP)

JABALIYA, Gaza Strip — The remains of a fifth-century Byzantine church were unveiled in Gaza on Monday following a three-year restoration project, with the Strip’s rulers, the Hamas terror group, touting an embrace of their “Christian brothers.”

The remains of a church and monastery were first discovered in Jabaliya, a city in northern Gaza, in 1997 over an area spanning roughly 800 square meters (957 square yards).

The church floor is adorned with what Hamas officials described as “rare” mosaics, including depictions of animals, hunting scenes and palm trees.

Visitors can now gaze at the mosaics from newly-built elevated wooden walkways.

Gaza’s tourism ministry said the church’s original walls were adorned with religious texts written in ancient Greek dating from the era of Emperor Theodosius II, who ruled Byzantium from the year 408 to 450.

At a ceremony marking the site’s reopening, the most senior Christian cleric in Gaza, Archbishop Alexios of Tiberias, recalled Christianity’s long history in the coastal territory, noting that “monasticism began in the Gaza strip in the year 280.”

A general view shows the remnants of a Byzantine church during an inauguration of the Mukheitim archaeological site in Jabaliya in the northern Gaza Strip on January 24, 2022. (Mahmud HAMS / AFP)

But the number of Christians in Gaza has been in decline for years, many of them having emigrated, particularly after the Islamist Hamas seized power in 2007.

According to local church officials, there remain only about 1,000 Christians in the enclave, compared to 7,000 before 2007.

Issam al-Daalis, who heads the government works department in Gaza, said the site’s restoration was an example of Hamas’s “embracing” of its “Christian brothers in Gaza.”

The restoration was carried out by French organization Premiere Urgence Internationale at a cost of almost $250,000. The British Council also supported the work.

Times of Israel Staff contributed to this report.

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