THE Archbishop in Jerusalem, Dr Hosam Naoum, has described a blast at the Anglican-run Al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City as a “dreadful and devastating massacre”.
Speaking at a press conference in East Jerusalem on Wednesday afternoon, Dr Naoum said: “We stand, as Heads of Churches, united together, in condemning this dreadful and devastating massacre. We regard this as a crime against humanity, and we call upon all sides: this war must come to an end,” Dr Naoum said, as, alongside other church leaders, he opened the press conference, which was live-streamed on the diocese’s Facebook page.
Later on Wednesday afternoon, the Archbishop of Canterbury said in a statement: “I join my Anglican brothers and sisters in Gaza, Israel and the West Bank in their profound mourning after the atrocious attack on the Anglican-run Al-Ahli Hospital yesterday, which follows so closely on from an attack on the same hospital on Saturday. This is a hospital I have visited, and whose staff I have prayed with.”
He continued: “This atrocity violates the sanctity and dignity of human life. It is a violation of humanitarian law, which is clear that hospitals, doctors and patients must be protected.” He urged “restraint” in “apportioning responsibility before all the facts are clear”.
Reports suggest, and Dr Naoum confirmed, that the blast occurred in a packed car park beside the hospital buildings. He described the scene: “A few hours before the strike, the people who were gathered in the courtyard, the people were singing for peace and the children were playing.”
EPISCOPAL DIOCESE OF JERUSALEM/FACEBOOKThe Archbishop in Jerusalem, Dr Hosam Naoum (fifth from left), at a press conference in East Jerusalem on Wednesday
He announced that the hospital would remain open, despite indications the day before that it would be closed. “We are determined, not only as the Anglican Church but as all Churches, to keep our institutions open, to keep our places of worship, our churches, open as places of sanctuary, especially for those who are disadvantaged, especially for those who are vulnerable,” he said.
Dr Naoum was asked by a journalist whom he blamed for the incident. Competing reports emerged after the incident on Tuesday evening. Israeli officials said that the devastation was a result of a misfiring rocket that had been launched towards Israel, while local officials in Gaza attributed the damage to an Israeli air strike.
“What we know is what we saw on the TV. We are people of the cloth, we are people of the Church . . . we are not military experts,” he said. “Who did this is not for us to determine, or to give judgement, but let people see what is happening on the ground, and we hope that people will come to the conclusion: enough with this war.”
Sitting between the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilus III, and the Latin Patriarch, Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Dr Naoum said that the Heads of Churches were asking “all people of goodwill to intervene to stop what is going on in our land”.
He expressed hope that a humanitarian corridor to Gaza, and a ceasefire, could be established, and thanked those who had “stood in solidarity”.
Dr Naoum confirmed that the hospital had previously received instructions to evacuate, in common with other hospitals in northern Gaza, and that this had been passed on to staff and those who were sheltering in the building.
As many were, however, unable or unwilling to move to south Gaza, which had also been targeted by Israeli strikes, the hospital had remained a “sanctuary”.
“Every time there is bombing, every time there is an air strike, people flee to the hospital, because this is sanctuary to them,” he said; there were “thousands” coming through the hospital.
Dr Naoum also confirmed that an attack on the hospital last Saturday had damaged two floors of one of the buildings.
On Wednesday afternoon, BBC News reported that the Palestinian Health Ministry had announced that 471 people had been killed in the blast, and 314 injured.