June 18, 2024

Roman Catholic church officials said an Israeli military sniper shot and killed a mother and daughter on Saturday inside a church compound in northern Gaza where many Palestinian Christian families have taken refuge.

The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem said that “one was killed as she tried to carry the other to safety” in the compound of the Holy Family Church in Gaza City. Seven more people were shot and wounded while trying to protect others there, the patriarchate said in a statement on Saturday.

“No warning was given, no notification was provided,” the patriarchate said. “They were shot in cold blood inside the premises of the parish.”

The patriarchate said Israeli rockets were fired at a convent in the church compound earlier on Saturday, destroying the building’s sole generator and fuel supply and heavily damaging the structure. Fifty-four disabled people had been living in the convent, and some were left without working respirators that they need to survive, the statement said.

The Israeli military has denied knowledge of an attack at the Holy Family Parish.

Pope Francis condemned the killings on Sunday in his weekly address, saying that he continued to receive “very serious and sad news about Gaza.”

“Unarmed civilians are targets for bombs and gunfire,” the pope said. ”And this has happened even within the parish complex of the Holy Family, where there are no terrorists, but families, children, people who are sick and have disabilities, sisters.”

The pope identified the two who were killed as Nahida Khalil Anton and her daughter Samar Kamal Anton. He said they and the others who were shot had been on their way to use a bathroom.

Layla Moran, a member of Britain’s Parliament, said in an interview on Sunday that members of her extended family across three generations — a grandmother, her son, his wife and their 11-year-old twins — were among hundreds of Christian Palestinians taking shelter at the Holy Family parish compound, which also includes a school and a rectory.

The compound has seen a “huge escalation” in gunfire since Tuesday, with no warning from the Israeli military, Ms. Moran said. Families at the church have remained trapped in schoolrooms with dwindling supplies of food and water, she said, adding that she was afraid her relatives there might not survive until Christmas.

The dire humanitarian situation at the church and the killing of the two women on Saturday “makes a mockery of the suggestion” that the Israeli military tries to keep civilians safe, she said.

Ms. Moran said a sixth member of her family who was sheltering at the church, the 81-year-old grandfather of the twins, died after he became dehydrated and could not be taken to a hospital, because nearly every health care facility in northern Gaza had stopped functioning.

The family sought refuge in the church during the first week of the war after their home in Gaza City was bombed, she said.

“Nowhere is safe in Gaza,” she said. “So they took the decision to stay in their church — with the people they knew, with the priests — thinking that they would be safe in the church. Who would attack a church?”

In October, an Israeli airstrike hit a Greek Orthodox Church in Gaza City. The Gazan health ministry said at least 16 people were killed and many others were buried underneath rubble. The Israeli military said that the church, which like Holy Family was sheltering displaced families, was “unequivocally” not the intended target of the strike, and that fighter jets were aiming for a Hamas command center nearby.

Nick Cumming-Bruce, Rachel Abrams and Jonathan Reiss contributed reporting.