Gaza: war kills Christians, overwhelms hospitals

Gaza’s small Christian community lost at least two members in the past few days. A well-known elderly woman was killed while trying to retrieve personal effects from home, and an elderly ill man died from the lack of medical care. The Israeli army raided the al-Shifa hospital. Tragic stories continue to arrive from the Anglican al-Ahli Hospital. Anglican Archbishop Hosam Naoum appeals for peace.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – Israel’s all-out war against Hamas in Gaza is also affecting Christians as senior members are killed, churches surrounded, hospitals raided and more "collateral" damage caused by ground and air attacks, this according to a Protestant website that reports the "encirclement" of a church in Gaza, citing sources within the community.

The death of an 84-year-old Baptist woman, who sought refuge in the Holy Family Catholic Church during an Israeli air raid, is still raw with many people who remember her, paying tribute to her life on social media as a way to say farewell.

The death of an elderly Christian man was also reported on social media today; he was sheltering in the church but was ill and could not be transported to hospital for medical treatment.

The daughter of a well-known Palestinian poet, Elham Farah also died on Sunday when she was shot by a sniper. Local sources say that she had left the area where the church stands to retrieve some personal effects from her home in the al-Rimal neighbourhood, in Gaza City, and to check on its state after days of intense bombardment.

She was hit by a bullet and seriously injured in the leg, but no one could help her for fear of soldiers deployed in the area, and so bled to death. According to a witness, a tank also ran over the body, which was recovered only a day later.

Before the war, she taught music and is remembered by Christians in Gaza for her smile, the joy expressed right in her surname, which is the Arabic word for "joy".

Among the first to break the news of her death was her niece, Carole. “She was so cute and nice, and continued to send me Bible verses and worship songs this week with what little electricity she had,” Carole posted on X (ex-Twitter).

“I don’t think there’s anyone in Gaza who hasn’t met her on the street. She would always stop people, smile at them, and start talking to them,” wrote another social media user.

“She was an icon of Gaza in terms of culture, knowledge and awareness. We will continue praying for you and talking about you. The only consolation is she lived her life playing music”.

A former student remembers Farah performing. “We loved listening to her music; it was one of the most beautiful classes.”

Meanwhile, Israel is continuing its military operation around Gaza’s main hospitals, like the al-Shifa Hospital, targeted overnight, and the Anglican al-Ahli Arab Hospital because Hamas fighters allegedly use it as a shelter or is thought to have a Hamas base.

The atmosphere inside the Anglican Hospital is heavy. A place of "care and coexistence", it was hit last month, with the Israeli military and Hamas blaming each other.

At present, doctors are making repeated appeals for the immediate provision of medical aid and staff (surgeons, nurses, radiology and operating room technicians) to cope with the rising number of patients and civilians seeking shelter.

The facility returned to operation in late October and is trying to make up for the ongoing humanitarian and health emergency as best it can, with a serious shortage of everything.

Fr Fadel Naim, head of orthopaedic department, points to staff shortages. "Right now, the only functioning hospital is Al-Ahli Hospital, so we are receiving [a] huge number of people with complicated injuries," he said in a statement reported by some media outlets on Monday.

His words were interspersed with explosions related to bombings in progress. “Ours," he added, "is a small hospital, it is not ready to be a trauma hospital," but "we are modifying it to meet needs."

A blogger, Dr Ghassan Abu Sitta is among the most active in reporting from the hospital, posting videos of bombings near the facility and highlighting the daily challenges.

“We have received over 20 chest and neck gunshot wounds fired from Israeli Quadcopter drones. This is a low-flying sniper drone. When it comes to killing, they are so innovative,” reads one of his latest posts on X.

Bits and pieces of information are also coming out of the al-Shifa hospital, which was raided overnight, amid a large-scale operation that is still underway.

According to some eyewitnesses, soldiers ordered all men between the ages of 16 and 40 to leave the building, with the sole exception of those engaged in emergency rooms and operating rooms.

Some soldiers allegedly fired shots into the air to force people inside to get out, installing scanning and detection devices inside for people to go through.

So far, such claims have had no visual confirmation nor any independent verification in a situation of great tensions and confusion.

“Deeply worrisome” is how WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus describes the situation on X. “WHO has lost contact with its focal points in Al-Shifa Hospital” and “is gravely concerned about the safety of health workers, hundreds of sick and injured patients”.

A video posted on Telegram by the activist website Eye on Palestine reported bombardment near the Indonesian hospital, which Israel says is being used by Hamas as a base and shelter.

The Anglican Archbishop of Jerusalem, Hosam Naoum, also spoke about the situation of Christians in Gaza, sending a video message to the General Synod of the Church of England in which he stresses how hard and contentious the task of seeking peace and reconciliation in the Holy Land can be.

He urged the international community to work towards a resolution of the conflict and implement an immediate ceasefire to set up humanitarian corridors and ensure the protection of civilians.

“Language of reconciliation, trying to speak a word that brings people together can be difficult, and it can be controversial. But I believe that here in the Holy Land we need that language of peace and reconciliation more than ever.”