Israeli sniper kills two Christians in Gaza, Latin Patriarchate says

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A Divine Liturgy is celebrated at Holy Family Church in Gaza City Dec. 15, 2023, one day before the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem said that an Israel Defense Forces sniper shot and killed a mother and daughter as they walked to a convent in the Holy Family Parish compound in Gaza. While avoiding language that directly criticized the IDF, the patriarchate stated that the mother and daughter were "murdered." Seven more people were shot and wounded while trying to protect others in the church compound. (OSV News photo/ courtesy Holy Family Parish) Editors: Best quality available.

(OSV News) — The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem denounced a series of attacks on Christians in Gaza by Israeli forces, including the killing of a mother and daughter at a Catholic parish.

In a statement released Dec. 16, the patriarchate said that earlier in the day, an Israel Defense Forces sniper shot and killed Nahida and her daughter Samar (no last name was given) as they walked to a convent at Holy Family Parish compound in Gaza.

While avoiding language that directly criticized the IDF, the patriarchate stated that the mother and daughter were “murdered.”

“One was killed as she tried to carry the other to safety,” the patriarchate said, adding that seven more people were shot and wounded while trying to protect others in the church compound.

“No warning was given, no notification was provided,” the statement said. “They were shot in cold blood inside the premises of the parish, where there are no belligerents.”

Tank fires on convent

The Latin Patriarchate also said that the same day, an IDF tank launched a rocket that targeted a Missionaries of Charity convent that is home to “54 disabled persons and is part of the church compound, which was signaled as a place of worship since the beginning of the war.”

After destroying its generator and fuel resources, the patriarchate said, the tank fired two more rockets that “rendered the home uninhabitable,” leaving the displaced persons without a home and “without access to the respirators that some of them need to survive.”

Expressing its condolences to the victims and their families, the Latin Patriarchate called the attack a “senseless tragedy.”

“At the same time, 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 statement said.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, president of the bishops’ conference of England and Wales, said he is “heartbroken” at the information provided by Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem. “I have immediately sent a message to His Eminence, expressing my horror at these events and assuring him of the prayers of Catholics in England and Wales,” he said.

“I have twice been warmly welcomed to this parish by its people. They are a remarkable community of faith and genuine service to their neighbors. Together with the dedicated Religious Sisters, they have continued to provide shelter and sustenance to many people during these weeks of warfare. They are a people who yearn for peace,” Cardinal Nichols said in a Dec. 16 statement.

“The information provided by the Cardinal, gives a picture of seemingly deliberate and callous killing by IDF soldiers of innocent civilians: an elderly woman and her daughter in the grounds of a church. This killing has to stop. It can never be justified,” the prelate said, calling on “people of faith and goodwill to continue to pray for an end to this conflict by all sides.”

Israeli hostages accidentally killed

News of the attack on innocent civilians came a day after Israel faced mounting criticism at home and abroad for its conduct in the country’s war against Hamas after IDF soldiers mistakenly shot and killed three Israeli hostages.

According to a report by NPR, Israeli military officials said two of the three Israeli hostages were shot and killed immediately while the third ran back wounded and cried for help in Hebrew. He died a short time later.

The IDF did not specify why the hostages, who were dressed in civilian clothes and waving a white flag, were identified as a threat.

The Israeli government, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has drawn criticism for the death of thousands of civilians. However, Israel has blamed Hamas for the death of civilians, claiming that the group uses people as human shields.

Bloodshed continues

The Times of Israel reported Dec. 12 that more than 18,000 Palestinians have died since Israel launched its war Oct. 27. The IDF has said that more than 7,000 of those killed were Hamas militants.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, met Dec. 16 with a delegation of the Arab League and several ambassadors in the region, including the ambassadors of Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt and expressed “the Holy See’s concern about the situation in Israel and Palestine.”

In a statement released after the meeting, the Vatican said Cardinal Parolin called for humanitarian aid access in Gaza and emphasized “Pope Francis’ frequent appeals for a ceasefire.”

He also reiterated “the urgent need to achieve the full implementation of the two-state solution and a special, internationally guaranteed status for the city of Jerusalem, for lasting peace in the region,” the Vatican said.

Junno Arocho Esteves

Junno Arocho Esteves writes for OSV News from Rome.