08/08/2022, 16.56
ISRAEL – PALESTINE
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Gaza parish priest says Israel’s ‘hard blow’ has created a climate of ‘despair’

Mediated by Egypt, the truce between Israel and Islamic Jihad has been holding since 11.30 pm Sunday. As he waits to be let back in Gaza, Fr Romanelli, remains in contact with his deputy and local nuns. The current situation, which feeds a desire to flee, undermines all the work done to "heal traumas". For him, there is a lack of "political will" to reach true peace.

Gaza (AsiaNews) – Israel's military operation in Gaza in response to rockets launched by Islamic Jihad (IJ) group against Israel last weekend "was a blow to the population,” which was "taken by surprise,” said Gaza’s pastor Fr Gabriel Romanelli, ,who is still waiting for Israeli permission to return to the Strip.

"They have let through journalists, UN diplomats, but not yours truly who lives there, in Gaza," said the Argentine-born priest of the Incarnate Word. Hopefully, he will “be able to get back as soon as possible” thanks to the embassy and the Latin Patriarchate.

Meanwhile, “the truce agreed upon seems to be holding,” said the clergyman, who heads Gaza’s Holy Family parish, and remains in “constant contact” with his deputy and the local Sisters.

“People are used to violence, clashes, but over the past year, since the May 2021 fighting, the situation has been relatively calm – a strange time, without bombing even at night, an almost unreal silence.”

What is more, “more than 10,000 permits to work in the West Bank were granted to Gaza residents,” and “the travel permits granted to Christians for Easter were extended until the end of June.”

All this nurtured a cautious optimism and a climate of "serenity” that vanished in the past few days “of bombing”.

The ceasefire between Israel and Islamic Jihad came into effect yesterday, at 11.30 pm local time, after three days of Israeli strikes in the Strip and rockets launched by the extremist group across the border into Israel.

Sources with Hamas, which rules the Strip and has not been involved in the latest round of violence, report that operation "Breaking dawn" killed at least 44 Palestinians, including 15 children, three women and an elderly person, wounding 360.

Material damage has been reported in Israel but no dead or wounded thanks to Israel’s “Iron Dome” defence system, which intercepted most of about a thousand rockets and mortar shells fired from the Strip.

The agreement to reopen the borders, mediated by Egypt, provides for the release of Bassam al-Saadi, IJ commander in the West Bank. His arrest, which took place in Jenin in early August, is one of the factors that triggered the violence.

Israeli air strikes came in response to repeated IJ rocket attacks from the Strip. In total, the Israeli defence Forces (IDF) hit at least 140 targets, including an attack tunnel used by the IJ, and killed two of its senior officers.

Israeli ministers received intelligence about possible attacks that could “endanger the population,” noted Fr Romanelli. This led to the decision to “pre-empt”.

However, all this is “speculation, rumours” with no official confirmation. Hamas itself “stood on the sidelines,” choosing not to get involved in the escalation.

“It has been a hard blow for us [Catholics and clergymen] – who work to heal traumas and guarantee a future for young people – because it undermines the work done so far.

“Such incidents feed the desire to flee and fuel a sense of resignation and deep discouragement, especially among Christians.”

Over the weekend, the parish put on hold all activities, including the summer camp and the meetings to prepare the new school year. Only Masses and worship of the Blessed Sacrament were maintained.

"As soon as they grant me permission to return, we will resume work, trying to get back to live in a reality that I would define as ‘hyper-surrealist’.

“Some months were strange, no bombs, so people went back to the beach and the sea. Now the first consequences are already being felt, with electricity cut from eight hours a day to four.”

"For Gaza it is not true that there are no solutions. There is a lack of political will to find answers, but as John Paul II put it, peace in the world depends on Jerusalem and the Holy Land. While many are interested in hindering it, it takes good will and commitment to achieve it.”

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