04/08/2016, 19.36
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Mall construction at Byzantine church site in Gaza angers Christians and Muslims

After workers uncover the remains of an ancient Byzantine church at the site of a planned shopping centre, local authorities remove remains and allow construction to go ahead. Both Christians and Muslims protest in Jerusalem and the West Bank. Source told AsiaNews that economic interests are more important than the territory’s history and culture.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – People in Jerusalem and parts of the West Bank have voiced their anger against the decision by Gaza authorities to continue the construction of a shopping mall at a site that contains the ancient ruins of a Byzantine church.

A Christian source in Gaza, who asked his name not be used, told AsiaNews that "across the West Bank, Christians and Muslims have forcefully called for a stop to the construction in order to evaluate the findings.” For many, “the ruins are a major discovery, but little is known about what has become of the artefacts.”

Last week, construction workers found the remains of the 1,500-year-old church in Palestine Square in Gaza City. This is important not only for Gaza Christians, but also for all the people of the territory.

In spite of the discovery, neither Hamas, which rules Gaza Strip, nor the Palestinian Authority stopped construction to prevent further loss of artefacts. Instead, plans to build one of Gaza’s largest shopping centres will remain on track.

Among the reasons for the decision to continue work is the impossibility – according to the authorities of the Strip – to sustain the costs of research for other finds and their conservation. Although Palestinian authorities have great interest in preserving the remains, they cite a lack of resources to do so.

“The site we are talking about is 2,000 square metres and 10-metres deep and requires hundreds of workers and millions of dollars to carry out proper excavation to extract pieces and read the texts,” said Abu Rida Jamal Abu Rida, head of the PA Antiquities Ministry. Hence, the decision to remove all the remains found so far and cover everything up.

However, this has infuriated the Christian community. "We do not know what happened to the Byzantine cross, column, and other objects," the source told AsiaNews. "Some government officials must have taken them away.”

“This is not a sectarian or religious issue,” the source said. “It's just about economics, business. The mall is tempting, which is why they want to continue at any cost.” In any event, "the government does not care about historical, religious, or artistic matters. They cordoned off the area, and gave the go-ahead to lay the foundations.”

In reality, the finding “was a blessing for the city of Gaza," said the source, for both Christians and Muslims "who live together in the Gaza Strip, help each other, and nurture bonds of friendship. For now, there are no sectarian tensions."

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